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THE SKEPTICS 

VTTTv 
ITALIAN EENAISSANCE 



JOHN OWEN 




SWAN SONNENSOHEIN & CO. 
NEW YORK: MACMILLAN & CO. 



I 






I* 



c Die Erde i*t der grosse Fehen, tcoran die Menschheit, der eigentliche Prometheus^ 
gefesseU ist, und vom Geier des Zweifels zerjieiscld wird; 8%e hat da* Licht 
gestohlen, und leidet nun Martern dafUr? 

Heine, Religion u. Philosophie ( Werke : vol. xiii.), p. 307. 

l llfaut avoir ces troit qualiUs; Pyrrhonien, Geometre, Chretien soumis ; et ellen 
tfaccordent et se temper ent, en doutant ou ilfaut^ en avsurant ou ilfaui en se sournet- 
tant ou ilfaui? 

Pascal, Penties, Ed. Faugere, vol. ii. p. 347. 



it 

\ 



Butler * Tanner, The Bel wood Printing Works, Froine, and Loudon. 



TO 

J. T. DANSON, Esq., 

OF GRA8MERE, 

I RESPECTFULLY DEDICATE 

THIS WORK 

ON THE RENAISSANCE SKEPTICS: 

THOSE OF ITS READERS 

WHO KNOW HIM 

WILL KNOW WHY. 

JOHN OWEN. 



East Anstiy, 
January 6th, 1898. 



INTRODUCTION. 



Different causes of various kinds and degrees of cogency may 
exist for prefixing to a new work, that bugbear of the modern 
reader — an Introduction. Thus there may be reasons of un- 
deniable expediency for dealing in a separate and initiatory 
chapter with the general outline or purport of the book. 
Among such reasons may be one or more whose special opera- 
tion gives them a peculiar claim to consideration. The book 
may e.g. treat of a subject long misapprehended and mal- 
treated by writers who have generally dealt with it in time 
past; or, like a stranger who can claim kinship among the 
circle into which he craves admission, the book may be so 
allied with an older work on the same or kindred subject that 
it is capable of receiving from it no small amount of reflected 
illustration in the way of references or extracts. Now both of 
these reasons combine as justifying an introduction to the 
present work. 1st. It is related to a work which the author 
published so far back as 1881 under the title of 'Evenings 
with the Skeptics.' It may indeed claim to be in some sort 
a continuation of that work — carrying down the history of the 
chief representative Skeptics to the period of the Renaissance 
and a century or more beyond. 

By this, however, is not intended that such a continuity in 
the subjects of the two works need be emphasized or exagger- 
ated, so that the essential independence, self-sufficingness, and 
conclusiveness of these two volumes should be deemed for a 
moment open to question. The Free-thought of the Renais- 



Tll 



viii Introduction. 

sance is in reality a Free-thought of its own. Its Skepticism 
in Italy and France is largely an indigenous and native pro- 
duct. Originated by strange unforeseen causes, fostered by 
new and mysterious influences— political as well as religious 
and social — conditioned by circumstances, stimulated by move- 
ments and energies altogether peculiar to itself, the Skepticism 
of the Renaissance can always claim historical consideration 
in and for itself alone. It is unique in the history of human 
speculation. There can therefore be no hesitation in regard- 
ing the theme of these volumes as independent, as standing 
aloof in its complete amplitude and entirety from, e.g., the 
Free-thought of Scholasticism and Medievalism as well as 
from that of modern European History. Unlike most commo- 
tions and upheavals in the history of human thought — which 
we might conceive not incapable of repetition at least in part — 
it stands absolutely alone, a kind of awa^ \ey6fievov in the 
continuous utterance of progressive humanity ; and it is just 
this isolated magnificence which renders the culture of the 
Renaissance, as an epoch and product deserving attention, 
autonomous and independent. 

The visual range and power of the man who emerges from 
prison, and surveys for the first time a broadly extended 
landscape outside its walls, is necessarily a different faculty 
exercised under different conditions, from the restricted, half- 
blinded vision which his former confinement alone permitted. 
This truth is not essentially lessened or impaired by the fact 
that the original structure of the organ remains the same ; 
since it is its ocular power, its correlation to its environment 
and the light which that environment supplies, the extent and 
kind of visual consciousness, or the sensibility it is capable of 
inducing — these are the qualities that constitute eyesight, and 
these are wholly modified by the supposed change from im- 
prisonment in a dark cell, to the liberty of outlook over a 
vista unbounded on all sides. The thoughtful reader who 
compares e.g. an average treatise of Jerome's or Augustine's 



Introduction. ix 

with a work of Dante's or Petrarca's soon becomes aware of 
the essential and overwhelming difference in his literary and 
speculative surroundings. In type, temperament, emotional 
and spiritual susceptibilities, etc., the men, though parted by 
centuries, are by no means dissimilar ; bat in passing from the 
culture of the Latin Fathers to that of the Renaissance leaders 
he feels as if he had suddenly entered a new world, and this 
feeling of novelty is not lessened by what is equally true, that 
this new world, in harmony with its name, is in great part a 
Resurrection — the thought and lore of Greece and Rome, for 
so many centuries held in thraldom by Ecclesiastical Chris- 
tianity, reasserting suddenly and unexpectedly that vital 
energy which animated the old world, proclaiming in unmis- 
takable accents their inherent supremacy and their ancient 
freedom, their liberty of Thought and their liberty of Doubt. 

At the same time, and with the distinction just pointed out 
remaining prominently before our minds, we must by no 
means f orgei that Skepticism in the view of the Author, and 
as an inspiring principle of the following work, implies the 
function of a natural energy or intellectual organ. Hence it 
has qualities and discharges offices which are necessarily akin 
in all periods and in all conditions. Especially its relations — 
critical and antagonistic — to dogma of every kind, must under 
every variety of condition and circumstance be very largely 
similar if not identical. It is therefore of primary importance 
that the meaning and sphere of Skepticism should be marked 
out with as great clearness as possible. For this purpose the 
author is persuaded he cannot do better than lay before his 
readers a few observations partly apologetic, partly expository, 
extracted from the preface of his former work. Besides throw- 
ing light on the subject and treatment of the present work, it 
may help to set at rest a misconception — against which the 
author has been struggling for years — which has long affected 
and perverted current notions of Skepticism both in Philosophy 
and Theology. 



x Introduction. 

Firstly. — The author deems it necessary to advise his 
readers that he has adopted the orthography of Skeptic and 
Skepticism partly for the sake of conforming to the increasing 
and true taste of spelling foreign words in their own manner, 
but chiefly for the purpose of bringing back, if possible, a 
much abused philosophical term to its primitive use. In these 
volumes ^^^r^^IO ..iff ft^grfd it? Aw 'ff f,a1 QT H *lg««i*ftl mean- 
ing; in other words, it denotes simply the ex ercise of the 
questioning flrLd ^iTspen si ve faculty ; ftfld the Ske ptic is above 
all thi ngs the Inquirer, the indomita ble , never -tiring Searcher 
after Tmt.h— t.hft rffltJ p . R<! f ft™1 r gftt?fi thlTlfeftf fo r ™rhn™ search 
may be a nefcoesity even more imperious than the definitive 
attainment of the object sought It follows that Skepticism 
is confined to ho period, race, or religious or secular belief. 
The energy itself being altogether irrepressible and natural, 
its manifestation is no more blameworthy than other instincts 
and energies of human speculation, which also share a natural 
basis and starting point. It may also be further allowed in 
reference to its varied objects, that the forms assumed by 
Skepticism may be indefinitely numerous ; and unless the 
members of the great body of thinkers and inquirers can be 
classified, nothing but confusion and indistinctness of thought 
can well be the result. Many writers have indeed remarked 
the confused appearance presented by ordinary Histories of 
Philosophy ; in which thinkers of all kinds are huddled to- 
gether without any regard to intellectual affinities or similari- 
ties. At least it seems worth considering whether some ele- 
mentary basis of classification might not be adopted which 
would subdivide philosophers according to their psychological 
idiosyncrasies and tendencies. Thus e.g. they might be ar- 
ranged, as Diogenes Laertius suggested, into two main 
classes, Synthetic and Analytic; or, using the more usual 
terms, Dogmatists and Skeptics— denoting respectively those 
in which constructive or disintegrating instincts preponderate. 
Such a division, although not rigidly logical, seems the best of 



Introduction. xi 

which the subject is capable. Hence the present work, taking 
as its subject eminent examples of the analysing, inquiring 
type of intellect, endeavours to show the similarity of its 
methods and procedures under varying conditions of time, 
race, country, diversity of dogmatic and social environment, 
etc. For the purposes of such an inquiry it is necessary to 
remember that Skepticism may be regarded from two stand- 
points. 

1. In relation to dogma, it is the antithetical habit which 
suggests investigation — the instinct that spontaneously dis- 
trusts both finality and infallibility as ordinary attributes of 
Truth. It inculcates caution and wariness as against the con- 
fidence, presumption, self-complacent assurance of Dogmatists. 
In this respect a history of doubters is in fact the history of 
human enlightenment. Every advance in thought or know- 
ledge has owed its impulse and inception to inquiring doubt. 
Hence it would be idle to deny or attempt to minimise the 
historical importance of Skepticism, or to ignore the perennial 
antagonism between doubt and dogma — the dynamic and 
static principles of all human knowledge. 

2. Considered in itself, Skepticism implies (1) Continuous 
inquiry ; (2) Suspense, or so much of IFas is needful in. impel' 
men to search, as well as to im part thp i frttdnm wTnVh p^rtning 
to the exercise of all intellectual energy. This is, as already 
remarked, the literal meaning of the word, as well as its 
general signification in Greek philosophy. The Skeptic is 
therefore not the denier or dogmatic Negationist he is com- 
monly held to be. Positive denial is as much opposed to the 
true Skeptical standpoint as determinate affirmation. One as 
well as the other implies fixity and finality. Each, when ex- 
treme and unconditional, makes a virtual claim to omni- 
science. 

The true Skeptic may hence be defined as the seeker after 
ultimate Truth, or, in other words, the Absolute; HeTlfTthS' 
searcher who must needs find, if he succeed in his quest, not 



xii Introduction. 

only demonstrable and infallible, but unconditionally perfect 
and all inclusive Truth. This definition of Skepticism may 
serve to remove some of the objections made against it as an 
antagonistic influence to religion, and especially to the Christian 
Revelation. Taking, however, Christianity in its primary and 
true sense, as we find it embodied in the words and life of Christ, 
this supposed conflict of its dictates with reasonable inquiry 
after truth is nothing else than an ecclesiastical fiction. Cer- 
tainly the claims of a Religion which asserts itself as the 
Tbuth, which bases freedom upon truth-discovery, whose 
Pounder's profession was that He came to bear witness to the 
truth, and which appealed to the Reason and Conscience of 
mankind, i.e. to their instincts of spiritual and moral truth, 
could never be fairly represented as opposed to truth-search. 
To the further objection that the definition of Christianity as 
Revelation renders further search needless, an answer is given 
in the course of this work. Here it may be remarked that, 
as a matter of fact, hardly one of the thinkers commonly 
accounted Skeptics, notwithstanding their aptitudes for free 
inquiry and their impatience of dogma, have ever thought of 
impugning the essentials of Christianity, in other words, the 
two great commandments of the law proclaimed by Chbist as 
the basis of His religion. What has been most affected by 
Skeptical disintegration has not been Christianity so much as 
its undue ecclesiastical development. 

As regards the method and plan of the work — the inter- 
mingling of philosophical discussion with formal essays — it 
may be enough to say that it seems especially demanded by 
the subject. A series of didactic essays, however useful for 
dogmatic purposes, would ill accord with the freedom which 
necessarily pertains to philosophical inquiry. Another ad- 
vantage not less marked is the formal recognition of divergent 
standpoints in the contemplation of Truth. Without this, 
indeed, Free-thought and free discussion are mere contradic- 
tions in terms, while a third reason of a different kind seems 



Introduction. xiii 

to be the expediency of investing philosophical subjects, when- 
ever possible, with a humane, homely, and familiar interest. 
Writers on philosophy are too apt, as a rule, to affect the 
position of hierophants: they pose as careful watchers over 
sacred and incommunicable mysteries : they account them- 
selves teachers of esoteric lore, and in harmony with their 
high vocation, their language is oftentimes pedantic and unduly 
technical. But whatever might have been urged in defence 
of such exclusiveness some centuries ago, it is certainly in- 
defensible in these days of general culture. There are few 
problems that have emerged in the history of human specula- 
tion which might not profitably be discussed by well-informed 
and candid disputants, and few minds, not hopelessly stunted 
by excessive dogma, that might not benefit by such earnest 
and friendly colloquy. All such discussions must tend to 
engender intellectual independence, to awaken and stimulate 
thought, as well as to promote its truthful and ingenuous 
expression. This indeed represents one chief object of this 
work — its didactic as distinct from its historical aim. Writing 
the history of truthseekers, the Author incidentally advocates 
untiring and disinterested search for Truth as the duty alike 
of the Scientist, the Philosopher, and the Christian. Hence 
he adopts as the text of his subject the remarkable saying of 
Locke, that to love Truth for Truth's sake is the principal part 
of human perfection in this toorld, and the seed-plot of all other 
virtues. 

Prom the foregoing remarks every reader of intelligence will 
have gathered that the Author of these volumes has a de- 
liberate, long- excogitated, and very earnest purpose in view. 
In other words he regards Skepticism, with all allied forms of 
Philosophical Thought and Method, as e.g. Eclecticism, as 
likely to claim a far greater sphere of energy in the Future 
than it has in the Past, and this too in the domain not of 
Theology only, but of Philosophy and Science as well. For 
this reason he regards this work as possessing — with whatever 



xiv Introduction. 

other qualities it may claim — the extremely useful merit of 
opportuneness. It responds, indirectly, but not the less com- 
pletely, to various indications and signs and forecasts which 
appear to announce a free and Skeptical awakening and re- 
energizing of human speculation in the near future. 

I. In Theology the Skeptical method falls in and harmonizes 
with the true conception of Faith — especially as laid down 
by the earliest teachers of Christianity — which subsequent 
Ecclesiastical Dogmatism, for its own selfish purposes, has 
sought to pervert or obscure. It not only allows but postulates 
a defect of demonstrable knowledge as an inevitable condition 
of man's limited faculties — an inseparable condition of his 
earthly lot. It supplements this partial attainment of man's 
intellectual and ratiocinative powers by an appeal to instincts, 
feelings, prepossessions and aspirations, which, though lacking 
in assured conviction, can never as long as man, variously 
endowed and cultured, retains the use of his nobler faculties, 
be without a certain indirect, moral and spiritual coercion. It 
comes to the aid of his inadequate reasoning by supplementing 
it with various kinds and degrees of Probability — approxima- 
tions to or justifiable deviations from supposedly demonstrable 
Truth. Not only does it accept in all needed cases the due 
amount of philosophical and judicial equilibrium pertaining to 
each ; but it demands that freedom of outlook and speculative 
research which is the inalienable prerogative of Thought, and 
which is both allied with and presupposes that entire absence 
of bias or preconception implied by Suspense. This, in the 
true analysis of religious and spiritual insight, is but another 
way of saying that so far from destroying, Skeptical thought 
gives new birth and energy to the religious faculty. It lays 
stress on, seizes and brings to the forefront, gives due room 
for the play and expansion of what is most valuable in our 
religious life. It calls into being, emphasizes and intensifies 
that fiducial relation of man to God which is the starting point 
and animating principle of all religious life. On the other 



Introduction. xv 

hand it destroys the germs of that conceit, narrowness, sur- 
charged individuality and Dogmatic exclusiveness, which of 
all evils incident to Religion, is undoubtedly the greatest. 

Happily, no symptom of our modern religious culture is 
more marked in the present day than the growing decrease — 
among all thoughtful and spiritually minded men — of Dog- 
matism in speculative Theology. Nor are the effects of this 
decrease in inducing caution, exactness in the estimate and 
statement of Religious Truths, liberality in the criticism and 
judgment of alien views, etc., less notable. Probably as the 
years move on, each charged, as by annual increment, with the 
wisdom and enlightenment of the Past, Skepticism and Free- 
thought may once more be permitted — what has been so long 
wholly denied or grudgingly allowed them — their legitimate 
use not as foes and subverters, but as conditions and contribu- 
tory causes of Religious Belief. 

II. To Philosophy also the condition of Skeptical analysis 
and suspense give the needed starting point, the sustaining 
energy, the intellectual justification. At present, the two 
chief directions of Philosophical movement and research are 
(i.) on the metaphysical side — the latest developments of Hege- 
lianism (ii.) on the Physical side, the various ramifications of 
Darwinism. Both of these developments seem to have passed 
the Dogmatic stages, which are as inevitable to schools and 
systems of Thought, as certain diseases of infancy are to grow- 
ing children. Except in a few cases and directions, and those 
steadily diminishing, the bounds of Dogmatic Truth are con- 
tinually becoming more restricted. The Hegelian meta- 
physician — mindful of the history of that Dogmatic Faith 
since it was first promulgated by the Master — will not bind 
himself to the tenet that no other correlation of Thought and 
Being than that he formulated is possible or conceivable. The 
Darwinian — mindful of certain potent reactions and retracta- 
tions — will not dare to pronounce on the number of originating 
Types from whence all the terrestrial varieties of Life are de- 



xvi Introduction. 

scended ; nor, if he be wise, will he venture to affirm that the 
scientific knowledge at his command suffices to give an ade- 
quate account of the commencement in time of a single one of 
the countless types of existence with which creation teems. 
The reasonings and theorizings both of one and the other are 
now largely hypothetical. Both the Metaphysician and the 
wise Physicist agree to disclaim the Omniscience which could 
alone warrant the Dogmatic assumptions and unverified con- 
clusions of their respective Sciences in days gone by. Here 
again Skepticism attests its worth as the attendant on Philo- 
sophic and Scientific Truth. It teaches the student both of 
the phenomena that lie within his grasp, and of the unknown 
and unfathomed ocean of Phenomena and Noumena that en- 
circle his individual existence, and therefrom stretch forth in- 
to Immensities in every direction, that caution, humility, self- 
restraint, and suspense are primary qualifications for Truth 
Search and Truth Discovery. 
A final word as to the scope of the following work : 
The Author cannot lay claim to the merit of so selecting 
his representatives of Skepticism and Free-thought that most 
forms and directions of those energies find in them their 
impersonations and illustrations. He has merely taken the 
thinkers as they came in a kind of rough chronological order, 
but having thus conformed to what seemed the historical 
exigencies of the case, it is to him a source of gratification 
that the thinkers so selected do in reality represent so great 
a variety of the processes of Free-thought and Skepticism as 
could fairly be expected in the men chosen, and in the times 
and circumstances which they illustrate. In short, they are 
mostly typical thinkers, who will always find, as long as 
humanity with its thought and knowledge-greed endures, 
mental scions and successors among cultured and thoughtful 
men. 

The Author, who did his share of proof corrections and 
reference verifications during a memorable period of physical 



Introduction. xvii 

debility and prostration, has several friends to thank for much 
sympathy and varied assistance. These, however, he is not 
permitted to mention, or to express openly and frankly as he 
fain would, his most grateful acknowledgments. To the pub- 
lishers he feels himself indebted for unvarying kindness and 
courtesy. Indeed he must ask for special permission to record 
his thankful appreciation of the invaluable counsel and 
practical help of Mr. Win. Swan Sonnenschein in compiling 
the excellent and elaborate Index, which enriches the book 
and immeasurably enhances its usefulness to the student. That 
the Author of the masterly volume, The Best Books, which 
may claim to be at once the most useful and most excellent 
Bibliography of its kind in the English language, should have 
put aside important literary work, in order to compile a full 
Index to these volumes, is an honour which their author cannot 
sufficiently appreciate, and which beggars every emotion of 
ordinary thankfulness. 

JOHN OWEN. 

East Anstey Kectory, 

January 6th, 1898. 



CONTENTS. 



CHAPTER I. 

Pi.O« 

GENERAL CAUSES 3 

Commerce and the Crusades 22 

The Secularization of Literature 82 

Mysteries and Moralities 51 

Revival of Classical Studies 58 

Arab Culture and Philosophy 68 

Reaction of Ecclesiastical Dogma 72 

Reaction against Asceticism 74 

Reaction against Sacerdotalism 78 

Reaction against Dogma 82 

CHAPTER II. 

GENERAL CAUSES AND LEADERS 96 

Dante 96 

Petrarca 107 

Boccaccio 128 

Luigi Pulci 147 

Machiavelli 160 

CHAPTER 1H. 

GENERAL CAUSES AND LEADERS (continued) 179 

Guicciardini 179 

Pomponazzi 184 

CHAPTER IV. 

GIORDANO BRUNO 245 

CHAPTER V. 

VANINI 845 

xlx 



THE SKEPTICS OF THE ITALIAN 

RENAISSANCE. 



VOL. I. B 



* Die Erde ist der grease Fdsen, woran die MenscMieit, der eigentliche Prometheus, 
gefesselt ist % und vom Qeier des Ztoeifels zerfleischt wird; sie hat das Licht 
gesiohlen y und leidet nun Martern dafUrJ 1 

Heine, Religion u. PhUosophie (Werke: vol. xiii.), p. 807. 

* H faut avoir ees trots qualitis; Pgrrhonien, Qeometre, Chretien soumis; et elles 

s'accordent et se temperent, en doutant ou il faut, en assurant ou il faut en sje soumet- 

tant ou ilfauV 

Pascal, Pensies, Ed. Faugere, vol. ii. p. 847. 



CHAPTER I. 
GENERAL CAUSES. 

Trevor. The Skepticism of the Italian Renaissance — our 
present subject — necessitates a treatment like that we bestowed 
on its kindred manifestation in Ancient Greece. I purpose 
therefore acquiring a general idea of it by passing in brief 
review the foremost types of the intellectual freedom it pro- 
duced before we consider its overt philosophical Skepticism in 
the person of Pomponazzi. 1 

Miss Leycester. Please tell us your selected types of 
Italian Free-thought. 

Trevor. There is as you know rather an embarrassment of 
riches in the subject — a difficulty in discerning the wood on 
account of the trees. After some hesitation I chose Dante, 
Petrarca, Boccaccio, Pulci, Macchiavelli and Guicciardini as 

1 On the subject of Pomponazzi the authorities quoted are : — De immorialitale 
Animas, 12mo. 1584 (which, however, according to Brunet is a false date). 

1. Petri Pomponatii, PhUosophi et Theologi doctrina et ingenio prcutantUeimi 
opera. Basilise 1567. 

2. Luigi Ferri, La Psicologia di Pietro Pomponazzi (Peale Accademia dei 
Lincei). Roma 1877. 

3. Pietro Pomponazzi, Studi etorici tu la tcuola Bolognese e Padovana del 
eecolo xvi., per Francesco Florentine Firenze 1868. 

8a. Review of the foregoing work in M. Franck's Moralists et Philosopher, 
pp. 85-136. Paris 1872. 

4. £. Renan, Averroet et VAverroism. Paris 1867. 

5. Niceron, Memoir es, vol. xxv. pp. 829-850. 

6. Pauli Jovii, Eiogia Doctorum Virorum. 

7. Tiraboschi, Storia, etc., also Ginguing's HUtoire de la Litterature cTItalie. 
Of the Historians the best account of Pomponazzi is to be found in Brucker, 

Tol. iv. f Ritter, vol. ix. and Buhle (Translation by Jourdain), vol. ii. 

See also Bayle's Dictionary, art. Pomponace, and Bartholmess ; article in the 
Diet, dee Science* Philoeophiques. 

On the general subject of the Renaissance the authors employed may be 
found in the foot-notes. 

8 



4 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

fair representatives of all the most salient of its many-sided 
aspects. 

Harrington. A judicious selection I think on the whole; 
though if the subject had fallen to my share I should have 
tried to include Ariosto, Cardinal Bembo and possibly JEneas 
Sylvius. 

Aeundel. Not I presume in addition to Trevor's half- 
dozen. As it is we have surely more than enough regarding 
them as preliminary to the consideration of an obscure thinker 
like Pomponazzi. From an artistic point of view we might 
demur to the erection of such noble vestibules to a rather 
insignificant temple. 

Trevob. You misapprehend my object Arundel. It is not 
merely as introductory to Pomponazzi that I purpose dwelling 
briefly on these leaders of Italian Free-thought. The names 
I have mentioned are of course abundantly able to stand each 
one by himself. But our subject has a dual aspect, i. We 
are in presence of a large diversified composite movement of 
Free-thought, of which we must get a general idea. ii. We 
require a specimen of its most developed Skepticism, which we 
have in Pomponazzi. 

Arundel. The plan of assessing a Thought-Epoch by 
examining its chief names is, I am aware, not uncommon, but 
I confess it is not to my mind altogether satisfactory. I have 
heard it called a 'grapes of Eschol argument' — judging a 
country by its abnormal products. It is not unlike the old 
method of writing history by chronicling the births and deaths 
of kings and the battles of great generals, and leaving the 
every-day life, and ordinary thought of the people quite out of 
-consideration. The method is not calculated to give true 
average results. If one were asked the ordinary stature of the 
people of London it would hardly be fair to confine one's 
measurements to the guards, or any other picked body of tall 
men. 

Trevor. Perhaps not, but in history which is dependant 
on the records of the, often distant, past, we must use the 
materials we have, not the non-existent ones we could have 
desiderated ; and for obvious if unfortunate reasons the outline 



General Causes. 5 

of kings, generals, prominent politicians are clearer and more 
easily seized upon than that of minor mortals. The same rule 
holds in the Literature of the past, in which only the prominent 
lights leave behind them works of permanent worth by which 
their intellectual stature can be estimated. But the con- 
clusions derivable from examining the taller specimens of 
humanity are by no means devoid of significance for those of 
ordinary growth. For given the height of the tallest and we 
can compute approximately the stature of the next in growth. 
Moreover the foremost minds in any period of general mental 
excitation and upheaval are only the vanguard of the army 
following in their steps. 

Harrington. You are quite right in urging the necessity 
of this mode of computing the average intellectual state of any 
given epoch. We must adopt some method analogous to a 
trigonometrical survey— climb the highest hills and take sights 
from one to the other. 

Miss Leycester. That may do in measuring countries, but 
we want to measure common people, their thoughts, feelings 
and opinions. I see no other way than judging as nearly as 
possible of normal measurements from those that are extreme. 
Our problem is, given a Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio, to find 
the intellectual condition of ordinary Italians in the thirteenth 
and two following centuries. 

Mrs. Harrington. There is, I think, another element in 
the calculation that brings the literary giants in closer contact 
with the multitude, and that is, the former not only take 
instinctively their position in front of the crowd, but the crowd 
recognizes them as leaders and accepts their guidance, which 
it would not do if it did not share their thoughts, sympathies 
and aspirations. The Italians who recited with enjoyment 
Dante's Commoedia, or Petrarca's Rime, or laughed over 
Boccaccio's Decameron, were certainly men of a kindred even 
if vastly inferior intellectual stature. 

Trevor. Very true, and for gaining that approximation to 
the general level of Italian thought, which I acknowledge is 
all we can hope to achieve, the names I have selected seem to 
me especially well adapted on account of their popularity. As 



6 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

to our typical example of Skepticism, Pomponazzi, whom 
Arundel appears inclined to under-estimate, is really a very 
remarkable man, whose importance in the history of Italian 
literature and European thought, his fellow-countrymen are 
only just beginning to realize. He is in fact the leading 
philosopher, in the strict sense of the term, of the Italian 
Renaissance, and occupies in the intellectual history of Italy 
the same position as Descartes in that of France, or Bacon in 
that of England, though without sharing their influence. 

Miss Leycester. But I do not see why you claim for him 
the position of being the earliest Italian skeptic, for religious 
unbelief is a well marked feature of Italian Literature at least 
a century before the time of Pomponazzi. 

Trevor. No doubt. You have a considerable amount of 
Free-thought and aspiration from the beginning of the thir- 
teenth century. In fact it is almost co»val with the birth of 
the national literature, which we cannot place higher than the 
twelfth century. . . . What I mean by assigning to Pom- 
ponazzi the first place in the philosophy of the Italian Re- 
naissance is that he is the founder of a new method. He is the 
first to break off, on the ground of logic rather than feeling, 
from scholasticism and medieval theology — to refuse allegiance 
to the traditional standards of preceding centuries, to insist 
upon the indefeasible right of the human reason to enquire and 
determine for itself what is true in philosophy and religion. 

Harrington. Especially, as it would seem, the former. 
But if we are to assign to Pomponazzi the first place in the 
freer intellectual movement in Italy he becomes the leading 
thinker of the same movement regarded as European. For 
Italy caught the first rays of the new light long before 
Germany or England. 

Miss Leycester. I see that Professor Fiorentino in his 
work on Pomponazzi, claims the Italian movement of Human- 
ism and Free-thought as superior to the religious revivalism 
of the German Reformation. He says that if Italy did not 
follow the Lutheran movement it was because she had already 
surpassed it. 1 

1 Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 153. 'La nostra Rinoscenza adunque entra innanzi 



General Causes. 7 

Arundel. I should strongly demur to that opinion. The 
religious reality of Luther, even if sometimes tainted with 
fanaticism, was immeasurably better than the licensed hypo- 
crisy which was the usual form that emancipation from spiritual 
tyranny took in Italy. 

Harrington. Considered purely as a question of freedom 
and leaving out of sight its ethical aspects, the Italian 
humanists seem to me to have the advantage. Both were 
slaves who had asserted their freedom, of whom one continued 
to bear, though in an easy form and so as not to impede the 
free movement of his limbs, the badges of his former servitude ; 
while the other, having divested himself of his bonds, pro- 
ceeded immediately to forge chains of another description, 
though perhaps of a less cramping and galling nature. When 
I was in Italy last summer, I enjoyed frequent opportunities of 
conversing on this very subject with a learned and thoughtful 
Italian, who shared the opinion of Professor Fiorentino. On 
my putting to him the question, 'How much do you think 
Italy has lost in the way of political and religious freedom 
by not following in the steps of the German Reformation ? ' 
1 Lost ! Signor ! ' was his answer ; ' I do not think we have 
lost anything. Germany only created another pope and 
another source of infallibility. We acted more in conformity 
with the dictates of human, or at least, Italian nature. For to 
nine people out of ten an infallible pope of some sort is an 
imperative necessity, and cceteris paribus an old one is better 
than a new. We therefore kept our pope, but gradually 
deprived him of all power of doing mischief. Even if Luther- 
anism had suited the more fervid and imaginative tempera* 
ment of our southern race, it would have retarded our literary 
and philosophical progress for some centuries. Indeed it 
produced this very effect in Germany itself, which cannot be 
said to possess an original thinker, until Lutheranism had 
expended its force, and entered upon a course of disintegration, 
i.e. until the birth of Kant. 1 The enlightenment which 

per ardimento, per novita, der ragionevolezza alia Eiforma Tedesca ; e se noi 
non seguimmo il movimento luterano, fa perche l'avevamo sorpassato.' 

1 It is only fair to remark that other causes have been assigned for the late 
birth and tardy development of Philosophy in Germany compared with France 



8 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

followed in the wake of the Konigsberg Philosopher is the 
parallel in Germany to the great literary movement through 
which Italy passed three centuries before; and Dante, Petrarca 
and Boccaccio are our national representatives of Lessing, 
Goethe and Schiller. As one beneficial result of our moderate 
and cautious policy, Italy escaped the religious wars which 
desolated France and Germany in the sixteenth and seven- 
teenth centuries, most of her own disturbances proceeding 
from foreign interference, and even when native, rarely turn- 
ing upon purely religious questions. At present, I regard my 
country as standing on a level with Germany both as to civil 
and religious liberty ; and her course, besides being the only 
conceivable one in her peculiar circumstances, has been less 
devious, and on the whole less marked by internal disturbance 
than that of her great Teutonic neighbour/ Making due 
altowanoe for patriotic feelings, I think there may be some 
truth in my friend's argument. 

Miss Letcbsteb. Most Germans, I am aware, make the 
precise point at which the active but spent energies of 
Lutheranism begin to pass into the new movement of the 
1 Enlightenment ' to be the publication of Kant's Critic, but I 
should rather go back to Lessing, in whose oft-quoted words, 
* Luther, Du hast uns von dem Joch der Tradition erlSst ; wer 
erl6st uns von dem unertr&glicheren Joch des Buchstabens ? ' 
you have at once a starting-point, a motto, and a prognosis of 
the second German Reformation. 

Trevor. The pertinacity of Italians in preserving forms 
and symbols when they have become emptied of all genuine 
meaning is very striking. Its latest illustration you have 
in the streets of Borne in the present day. Probably the 
notion of the temporal sovereignty of the pope (the abortive 
dogma of Pio Nono) is as dead in the minds of enlightened 
Catholics, as the Papal decree which forbad Galileo to 

and Italy. Leibnitz, e.g. ascribed it to the fact of the German language 
differing so completely from the Latin; whereas the speculations of the 
Schoolmen found an easy transition into the thought and culture of France 
and Italy, by means of the affinity of their languages to Latin. See Feuerbach 
Sammt. Werke V. p. 198. The same cause might seem to explain the similar 
tardiness in the case of England. 



General Causes. 9 

teach the motion of the earth. Yet the symbols of Papal 
rule are as conspicuous in Rome now as they ever were. 
I own I was much struck with this contrast on my only visit 
to Rome since the events of 1869-61. The outward aspect of 
the eternal city was scarcely altered. True, I found the crowds 
of priests and monks of old Rome replaced by Government 
officials, and its municipal affairs were better administered 
than in the old times. But the Papal arms were still 
suspended on the portals of the Quirinal, while nothing but a 
piece of tricolour bunting indicated the momentous fact that 
the palace of the Pontifical Consulta was now become the 
National Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the state apartments 
of Victor Emmanuel's residence, I found the same pious in- 
scriptions, the same ascetic pictures had been scrupulously left 
in their places. In the great halls of the Capitol open for 
municipal balls, the incongruity I was told reached its climax, 
for the fashionable world of Rome during the season dance 
before colossal statues of old Farnese or Barberini popes and in 
sight of frescoes representing the martyrdom of saints, and 
other legends of Catholicism. . . . Had the French been 
in the place of the Roman citizens during the Revolution, they 
would have made short work of the sacred symbols of the 
tiara, cross keys, and all other mementos of the older regime. 
. . . After all the resolution of a people not to break too 
abruptly with the past — who know how to preserve symbolical 
forms while altering and amending their signification — who 
can in politics as in other matters discriminate between letter 
and spirit — is no small proof of their capacity for freedom. 

Arundel. I have seen similar views as to the superiority of 
the Italian Renaissance to the German Reformation put for- 
ward, but I believe them to be founded on a partial and hasty 
generalization. Prima facie, there is no doubt a resemblance 
between the intellectual libertinism of Italy in the 15th 
century, and the rationalism and anti-dogmatism of Germany 
since the time of Kant. But the resemblance seems to me 
superficial; The difference is that which exists between -the 
insipidity of fruit hurriedly and artificially ripened, and the full 
mellow flavour of that which has enjoyed its normal proportion 



to The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

of time as well as of heat, of retarding as well as stimulating 
influences. The Italian Free-thought of the 15th century 
is a mere tour de force, the hasty and temporary effect of 
accidental causes. German * Enlightenment ' on the other 
hand is the tardy but natural product of a large number of 
special influences, not the least important of them being, the 
wholesome mental restraint, the solidity of intellectual forma- 
tion, as well as the sturdy independence of thought and 
character, which the Lutheran Reformation initiated. Even 
the bibliolatry which formed a necessary characteristic of the 
movement, appears to me better qualified to forward healthy 
mental growth, than a submission — though mainly specious 
and pretended — to ecclesiastical domination. For bibliolatry, 
we must remember, has engendered Biblical criticism, just as 
astrology brought forth astronomy. And the continual in- 
vestigation and criticism of a book like the Bible with its 
diversity of character and contents, is a better educational 
instrument, regarding it only from that point of view, than 
the ipse dixits of a succession of priests, few of whom transcend 
intellectual mediocrity. As it is Protestantism has exercised 
both a purifying and strengthening influence on the mental 
development of her foremost sons. Shakspeare and Goethe as 
pure products of Roman Catholicism are to me inconceivable. 

Tbevor. Your deduction, Arundel, seems to me hazardous. 
Genius considered in itself, is for the most part independent 
of religious influence of any kind. You might e.g. read the 
greater part of Shakspeare or Goethe without knowing or 
being able to ascertain, whether they were Catholics or 
Protestants, and with Cervantes, Calderon and Moli6re as the 
undoubted offspring of Roman Catholicism, Protestantism has 
not I conceive any well-grounded claim of superiority, at least 
to the overwhelming extent sometimes claimed for it. Of 
course, indirectly and operating through a long succession of 
generations, a religious creed must have its effect on the 
intellect of any race or nation, and of any individual belonging 
to either, and theoretically, an enlightened Protestantism, as a 
creed based upon mental independence and religious freedom 
ought to achieve nobler types of intellectual excellence than 



General Causes. 1 1 

Romanism, though whether it has done so in any particular 
instance will depend largely on the nature of the intellectual 
quality in question, and must in any case be exceedingly 
difficult to prove. At present however our concern is not with 
the products of modern Protestantism, but with an accidental 
growth, *a spirit' we may term it of the Catholicism of the 
fifteenth century. 

Harrington. Another factor in the problem would be the 
distinction between different kinds of culture. Philosophy, 
criticism and erudition grow fastest where the divergence and 
interchange of thought are greatest, and therefore are really 
aided by political and religious agitation, when these are not 
excessive. On the other hand, those branches of literature in 
which ' the form ' is of primary importance, require for their 
mature development long periods of peace and prosperity. 
The drama e.g. as the artistic exponent of human life and 
character seems to have thriven best in communities that have 
been least disturbed by political or religious commotions. 
Shakspeare and Calderon are perhaps the highest products of 
European dramatic art, and they belong to countries which 
have suffered less than any others in Europe from intestine 
disturbances — I mean Spain and England. Similarly the best 
products of the Greek drama had attained maturity before the 
outbreak of the Peloponnesian war — the first conflict that 
really shook Greek society to its base. 

Arundel. Returning to Pomponazzi, to whom I think we 
should confine our present remarks as being the least known 
name among those brought before us by the Renaissance, my 
only accessible authorities on him have been Briicker and Bayle. 
. . . I am surprised to find that a thinker whose methods 
and researches were in reality so hostile to Christianity should 
have been so little persecuted. I presume we must regard 
such immunity as a proof of the general relaxation of dogmatic 
faith and teaching during the pontificate of Leo X. I wonder 
whether there is any truth in the story that this Pope sent for 
Pomponazzi to Rome to hear him debate with his adversary 
Niphus on the immortality of the soul. Bayle tells the story 
and it is repeated by Renan. 1 

1 Aver roes, p. 863. 



1 2 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Trevor. Both Bayle and Renan have been misled on the 
point by a phrase in the letters of Gui Patin, whose reference 
to the subject I will read to you (taking down a volume from 
his shelves) : * Que le Pape L&m X fit venir a Rome P. 
Pomponace pour le faire disputer de l'immortalit^ de Tame 
contre Augustinus Niphus ; qu'il se donnoit du plaisir, de cette 
dispute mutuelle, et neanmoins ' continues the sarcastic writer, 
1 que tous trois n'y croyoient point non plus que la plupart 
n'y croient pas aujourd'hui a Rome. 1 1 But Patin though an 
amusing writer is not a good historical authority, besides 
which he wrote some forty years after the supposed event. 
Professor Fiorentino thinks the invitation to Niphus came from 
a Bishop Fiandino, though possibly at the suggestion of the 
Pope. Not that I think Leo X. or most of his sacred conclave 
would have been greatly scandalized at hearing the mortality 
of the soul conclusively demonstrated, especially on such an 
authority as Aristotle, for those were days in which, to quote 
a contemporary writer, some distinct departure from orthodox 
belief was deemed the proper mark of a courtier and a gentle- 
man. 2 

Miss Leycester. You must not think, Mr. Arundel, that 
Pomponazzi escaped persecution, even of a very violent kind, 
because he did not suffer martyrdom. His biographer states 
that he was actually harassed to death by his pitiless enemies 
the monks. 8 Rome has more weapons than one in her armoury, 
and her bloodless ones have often proved the most cruel. 

Harrington. Pomponazzi must nevertheless be accounted 
fortunate. Though he did not flourish in the noontide of the 
Italian Renaissance, he lived in what we may term its early 
afternoon hours. When we come to Giordano Bruno at the 

1 Lettres, vol. ii. p. 818. Cf. Fiorentino, pp. 41, 42. 

* See quotation from Caracciolo's MS. Life of Paul IV. in Ranke's History 
of the Popes, Eng. Trans, i. p. 56. ' In quel tempo non pareya fosse galantuomo 
e buon oortegiano colui che de' doguni della chiesa non aveva qualohe opinion 
erronea et heretical As to the prevalent unbelief in Immortality, com p. 
Vanini Amphitheatrum, etc., Exercit.' xxvi. pp. 151-152. So Ariosto on the 
same subject, speaks of some ( who believed in nothing above their roof, 1 
( non credar sopra il tetto.' Sonnetta xxxiv. 

* 'Quel filosofo, che il clero aveva perseguitato a morte.' — Pietro Pompo- 
nazzi, p. 68. 



General Causes. 13 

close of the fifteenth century, we shall find the condition of 
things completely changed. The shades of mediaeval darkness 
and bigotry are again beginning to gather, and Free-thought 
is punished by torture and death. 

Trevor. Well, we need not anticipate the close of the day 
before we have basked in its sunshine, and enjoyed the bright- 
ness and promise of its morning hours. This is at present our 
pleasing duty : I proceed therefore to my paper, commencing 
with a slight sketch of Italian Free-thought as it is indicated 
by other writers, both previous to and contemporary with 
Pomponazzi : — 



Were we to sum up in a single word the literary and philosophi- 
cal proclivities of Italy in the fourteenth and following centuries, we 
could hardly select a better than the word Paganism. In the chief 
centre of Christianity, around its very citadel, so to speak, the ideas 
and feelings of men had suddenly undergone a portentous change. 
It seemed as if the disembodied spirit of the old classical world had 
again risen from the tomb, and invigorated by the repose and oblivion 
of centuries, was preparing to renew its life and death struggle with 
Christianity. The complaint of Juvenal : — 

'. . . In Tiberim defluxit Orontes,' 

might in words have been repeated, though their intention and 
signification would have now required inversion, because it was the 
Tiber itself, and not its eastern tributaries that was on this occasion 
the source of pollution. The change was at least complete for the 
time. The authorities and records of Christianity were compelled to 
give place to classical writers. Instead of Augustine and Jerome, 
popes and cardinals employed themselves with Virgil and Horace, 
Ovid and Catullus. Homer attracts more attention than the newly 
discovered MSS. of the Greek Testament. Learned bishops refuse 
to read Jerome's Vulgate lest their own Ciceronian Latinity should be 
corrupted, and St. Paul's Epistles are deliberately put on one side by 
Cardinal Bembo on account of their unclassical Greek. 1 The Christian 
Church so far as her Italian rulers were concerned might be said to 
have suddenly discovered itself to be not Arian, but Heathen. That 
this prevailing taste for Pagan Freedom and culture should some- 
times degenerate into a liking for Pagan Licence was only what 

1 Cardinal Bembo was the friend and patron of Pomponazzi, whom Pope 
Leo X. appointed his secretary on account of his Ciceronian Latinity. 



1 4 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

might have been expected. Perhaps it was the marvellously rapid 
growth of Italian culture that, with other causes, engendered the 
social demoralization which was undoubtedly its accompaniment ; for 
a too hurried development in culture, art, philosophy or religion is 
frequently as debilitating to communities as an over-hasty physical 
development is to individuals. 

To attempt a detailed narrative of all the Free-thinking and 
Skeptical influences which prepared the way for, and serve to 
illustrate the labours of Pomponazzi would be to write a history of 
the Italian Renaissance. All that we can undertake is a rapid glance 
at some of the chief causes of the movement, followed by a few 
biographical illustrations of their operation in producing Free- 
thought. 

The commencement of free speculation in Italy is mutatis mvr 
tandis not unlike the earliest development of philosophy in 
Greece. The free Communes of Italy in the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries re-enact the role which the Greek colonies — some of the 
more flourishing of them being on Italian soil — had filled so many 
years before. These Italian cities were municipalities self-created 
for the most part by the exigencies of commerce, the need of pro- 
tection from ruling princes, and a desire for social intercourse as well 
as for civil and intellectual liberty. Medievalism was in its very 
nature repugnant to the idea of a purely secular state and therefore 
to that of municipal government and communal privileges. The only 
Sovereign power possessing an inherent right to exist, and to which 
all others were in theory subordinate, was the Church, 1 in virtue of its 
assumed divine origin, and its permanent principles of government. 
. Butjbefore th e twelfth century the Italian cities had one by one 
' emfitged.from the feudal thraldom which their Lomb arfl crmqnftmrg 
had originally imposed upon them, and which had afterwards passed 
into the hajD^oT l EeTfhurc K Contem po ra neously with this rise of 
Communes in the north and centre of Italy was the revival in the 
south of the long dormant idea" oT flha Monarch y — timHoly Rnman 
Empire — as a secul ar power entirely independent of the C hn rA k 
The commCTicemenTorthe gener al a wa kenin g t%€ politir4l ijfa whiph 
gave birth to these two potent institutions, has been traced to tho. 

1 Some writers would add the Holy Roman Empire which claimed to rule 
Italy from a.d. 962. Bat the rapid succession of secular rulers between that 
date and 476 when Odovacar conquered Italy had for a time weakened the 
obligations of the Italian Communes and States to Secular Rule. Their 
independence and autonomous claims form their chief characteristics. The 
general recognition of the secular claim of the Holy Roman Empire cannot 
be placed earlier than the twelfth century. 



General Causes. 15 

m 

large manumission of slaves by their terrified feudal lords in ex- 
pectation of the end of the world which the Church announced to 
take place in the year 1000. These freed men contributed gre atly t o 
the formation of_a middle ninaa in 1**1^^3 ^n^+H-ff^ qf 

/the idea ancT sentiment of liberty amon g the unenf r anchised slftt^** 
\ Instinctively grouping together "SPcities* and resorting to civic oc- 
/ cupation s they soon formed an element or strdfifrfh ftflrt huimmiuTSTTTa 
/ w nich m aae itself felt against their feudal masters. The m unicipal 
freedom tnllfl galllUd upanUBll 111 Vartftus way s in the prom otion of 
Free-thougKt. "ITfunilflnfld a re publlmffl BCanfl^o int from which both 
Pope and Xmperbr Blight be criticised and if need were, opposed. 
It presented a s against eccle sias tical and heredi tary Hnv ^rf>igntiftfl n 
new conception of human rights and liberty . It stimulatec L fay the 
very exercis e of self-government a spir it of freedom and independent 
judgment that radiated into other spheres of human, thought and 
energy. The successful effort of the Lombard League against 
Frederic Barbarossa was the first distinct intimation that a new 
Political power had arisen in Italy which was capable of holding its 
own against the greatest feudal sovereignty of the time. It was 
easy to see that this power was capable of enormous development. 
The citizen, especially when the elected chief of his municipality, 
was destined to attain a social position, a regard and consideration 
which made him the equal of Emperor or Pope. It is no doubt 
somewhat marvellous that the Communes, having learnt the secret of 
their strength when united, should have made no attempt to establish 
a federation, and thus laid the foundation of National Unity, but 
there were potent reasons, partly in the character of the people, 
partly in the circumstances of the times which rendered such 
Political foresight and wisdom impossible. Nor can it be said that 
Italy lost much by the postponement, for the time being, of its 
national existence. It was only rea so nable that men not long 
libera ted from feudal serfdom and the benumbing infliianftA of fftn jol 
ideas, should becom e accustomed to freedom, and should acquire the 
art of self-government, and social discipline, on a small scale, before 
they attempted to coalesce their different interests and opinions into 
a single nationality. 1 In all probability the political education of 
the Italian Co mmune s, and their aptitude for genuine freedo nywere 
fostered by the self-same causes' That" produced their mutual an- 
tagonism and disintegratfon. For the rivalries existing among 
themselves and between the various leagues and organizations 

1 Comp. Hallam, Middle Ages, i. 859: 'Ancient prejudices therefore pre- 
cluded a federate league of independent principalities and republics for which 
perhaps the actual condition of Italy unfitted her.' 



1 6 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

associated with them g ave an impe tu s in- ih w iifl ht, emulation, dis- 
cussion and inquiry which no other agency could JiajzxLSfi&cted. 1 

The Papacy way Hot at nrst hostile to the Communes, the govern- 
ment of some of them continued to be administered by Pontifical 
legates, while all of them acknowledged the spiritual jurisdiction of 
the Pope. Indeed Hadrian IV. and Gregory VII. adopted the policy 
of cherishing them as a newly developed secular power which they 
might employ against the Monarchy. They did not foresee that the 
democratic spirit, the civic independence and self-assertion, the 
capacity for self-government, the administrative powers acquired in 
secular matters might without much difficulty be transferred to 
sacred affairs. All political education based on free institutions has 
sooner or later proved hostile to sacerdotal despotism, and the suc- 
cessors of Hildebrand discovered that the Communes were by no 
means always pliant and obedient vassals of the Papacy. 

Equally inimical were the free municipalities of Italy to the 
Empire. The principle of self-government and" civil freedom — their 
sole ration d'itre — was a standing protest against the feudal supre- 
macy claimed by the Roman Empire. This position was not in reality 
affected by the fact that some of the Communes were for a time so 
many fiefs of the Empire, or that their chief magistrates were 
nominees of the Emperor. The principle of self-rule — the training 
imparted by the management of their own affairs — the self-reliant 
judgment naturally engendered by political discussion were in them- 
selves incentives to freedom, and quite antagonistic to the servile 
recognition of any external despotism. 

The advantage of an emancipation equally free from the pre-potent 
influence whether of Pope or Kaiser became manifested in the 
thirteenth century by the struggles of Guelf and Ghibelline, and the 
discovery that those cities which had adopted the anti-feudal 
principles of the Guelfs were more conspicuous for their prosperity 
than those which still submitted to the suzerainty of the Empire. 8 
Their independenc y 'vyaa more secure — thqir commerce wa g greater 
and less impeded by fisca l restrictions —their forms of government 
more el astic and adjus ta ble fo ^. iiey^rcumslince^thei i pulitjr_jagra-^ 
vigorous and self sustaininjg._ JCte . ; JEEfiajbest example of the h eight 
of fame and prosperity to which a well-conducted commerce was 
capable bTT^Hlg ly Florence."* At the cuhmmrtiuii of lie poWSrTEiiT 
greatest of the Tuscan free-cities rivalled in wealth and importance 
the old established hereditary sovereignties of Europe. It possessed 

1 Comp. Bettinelli, Risorgimento <T Italia, cap. 8. 

2 Comp. Settembrini, Lezioni di Lett, Italiana, vol. i. p. 50. 



General Causes. 17 

a large and well equipped standing army. Its chief magistrate was 
received as the social equal of kings. Foreign nations coveted its 
alliance. Its opulent merchants had their banks and houses of 
business throughout Italy, in the Levant, in France, Germany, 
England and Spain. Its free Institutions gave an impulse to com- 
merce, and commercial prosperity imparted a new value and enhance- 
ment to liberty. Allowing for the som ewhat excft p%nn.l *fl^iy.frr 
of Florentine prosperiffij, the advance o f minor Communes T such as 
Milan, Genoa and Pisa, in the same road of wealth and commerce 
in exact proportion exceptis excipiendis as their institutions were 
founded on liberty and a respect for popular ri fihts/ls a anfflftiftnt 
proof of the connection and mutual ex citation "that existed .bntwoeq, 
the Free cities of It aly ana tn? j ^e-thonjr J;* of thffi ^1^1*00*^ 

Contemporaneously with the rise of the Communes and the re- 
consolidation of the Monarchy, the Papacy had reached the culmi- 
nating point of its dogmatic development, and its tyrannical sway 
over the human conscience. The ambitious mind and powerful 
imagination of Hildebrand had conceived the idea of the absolute 
supremacy of the throne of St. Peter over all terrestrial and secular 
powers, without exception. In reality such a claim rested upon the 
same foundation as that which Papal hierarchs had so long arrogated 
of prescribing all the beliefs and authenticating all the knowledge 
and inquiry of Christendom. Once grant that a power deriving its 
existence and authority from Heaven is appointed to decree from an 
a priori standpoint all human convictions, and to regulate every 
department of human conduct, and the attempted subjugation of all 
human faculties and sources of authority becomes the only logical 
deduction of such a claim. If the Papacy with its power of the Keys 
really dominates over the eternal world — if the intelligences and 
powers of heaven are reduced to a kind of Papal executive, and God 
Himself is but the obedient vassal and executioner of the Pope's 
behests and fulminations — a fortiori must the same power have a 
right to control all earthly potentates, of whatever kind and degree. 
Was a Hohenstaufen Prince, Hildebrand imperiously demanded, to be 
regarded as superior to the High Majesty of the Eternal ? Was a 
mere earthly sovereign to dispute, or even to criticise, decrees and 
statutes which Omnipotence itself 1 — such was the extraordinary 
theory — had no choice but to approve and ratify ? or were the merely 
temporary affairs and interests with which alone earthly monarchs 
are concerned to be esteemed of greater import than the things of 
eternity ? In remembering the enormous mischiefs Papal pretensions 

1 Comp. Vogt, Hildebrand als Papat. Or eg. VIL, p. 7. 
VOL. I. C 



1 8 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

have caused in European history, we do not sufficiently reflect that 
the most outrageous of them is only the logical issue of a few 
elementary principles equally common to every system of sacer- 
dotalism. Rome; in the persons of Innocent III., Gregory VII. 
and Boniface VIII. only differs from other centres of priestly 
domination, by being more unscrupulously logical, and by carrying 
its primary maxims to their legitimate conclusion, though it be a 
clear reduc&io ad absurdum. 1 From the standpoint of sacerdotalism 
the plea of Hildebrand when about to excommunicate Henry, is un- 
answerable : ' When Christ trusted his flock to St. Peter, saying 
"Feed my sheep," did he except kings? or when he gave him the 
power to bind and loose, did he withdraw any one from his jurisdic- 
tion ? ' If the hierarchs of Papal and other churches no longer put 
forward, at least so arrogantly, their extravagant pretensions, it is 
not because they have ceased to hold them, but because, in an age of 
culture and enlightenment, they merely serve to excite the ridicule 
of thinking men. Hence we find — and it is not the least import- 
ant of the several lessons that our subject is calculated to teach — 
that excessive dogma and sacerdotal tyranny are just as fatal to the 
peace and welfare of political institutions as of private individuals. 
Happily the institutions when powerful can take care of their 
interests, which the individual may not always be able to do. In the 
comparative darkness of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries we musF 
therefore regard i€ as a providential circumstance that the Italiaa- 
Communes and tHeT^narchy were rifting iat» yy wc i BimulUmeuuriy 
with the development of thfi moat fixlTflvngnnt. preteankna of th^ 
Papacy, and that political rights, and wmnrnjinftl ftiH mnwim'pnl 
privileges were in a position to vindicate to 8ome_ex.tenjb^theJceedom 
of humanity, trodden under the iron heel of Ecclesiasticism. 8 

But this co-equar~growtli of the rival powers had indirectly a . 
further consequence. It suggested partly a political and secular 

1 See the links in Hildebrand's chain of reasoning extracted from his 
Epistles and set in order by Vogt, Hildebrand alt Paptt Gregorius VI L , pp. 
172-176. Comp. also Riezler's Literarischen Wider tocher der Paptte, p. 8, etc., 
and Bryoe's Hdy Roman Empire, pp. 176-178. Hildebrand's comparison of 
the sacred and secular powers respectively to the sun and moon is well 
known. Comp. his Epistle*, viii. 21. 

* Of course no attempt is here made to determine the political position of 
the Communes. The amount of freedom which they accorded was doubtless 
imperfect and precarious. They are here regarded from an intellectual stand- 
point, and only in relation to Free-thought. They formedjtnoid the social and 
political disorganization of the middle ages a nucleus round which gathered 
the newly awakened thoughts and aspirations of Italians, from which they 
-^radiated to every part of Italy, qufcxenihg all her manifold activities, national 
'as well at intellectual. ' m ~ * 



General Causes. 19 

antagonism to Ecclesiastical domination, and partly it furnished a 
neutral standpoint whence the claims both of one and the other 
could be scrutinized. Hence it happened that not a few, even of 
ecclesiastics, were content with a position of suspense between Pope 
and Kaiser, siding now with one now with the other just as their 
personal interests dictated, or else, from a feeling of indifference, 
holding aloof from both. It is easy to see that however unprincipled 
from an ethical point of view such a situation might possibly have 
been, it was not devoid of advantages in securing greater liberty for 
those who occupied it, while the mere fact of its existence did some- 
thing to repress the overweening arrogance of the Papacy. But in 
spite of these impediments to its development and incentives to 
independent thought, it must be admitted that the Papacy obtained 
a victory over the Empire, though it was one of those hard fought 
victories which are not distinguishable from defeats. For a time 
Hildebrand's conception of the absolute sovereignty of the Church 
overpowered the old idea of the Divine Institution of the Monarchy. 
We have already seen, in the case of William of Ockam, the origin 
of the notion and the service it conferred as against the pretensions 
of the Papacy. Its resuscitation in the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries, partly due to the controversies of the Popes with the 
Empire, must be ascribed almost equally to the strong influx of 
humanistic ideas. The theory was no longer based upon theological 
considerations and on the supposed realization of 0. T. prophecy; 
it now came to possess a new foundation in the excitations and 
aspirations awakened by the classical revival. In the minds of 
Dante and Petrarca, for instance, the conception of the Empire as 
the legitimate successor of Imperial or Republican Rome imparted 
a stability to the Emperor's power not the less strong from being 
based on antiquarian and ideal grounds. We cannot indeed under- 
stand any portion of the political history of Mediaeval Italy without 
having in mind its intimate connection with the history, institutions, 
nay even with the legends, of old Rome. The chief Italian cities 
had long claimed to be founded by the companions of iBneas on their 
voyage from Troy. 1 The language of Rome was still the accepted 
literary medium for Italian thinkers down to the time of Petrarca 
and Boccaccio. No small share of the consideration enjoyed by the 
Church in the estimation of the Humanists was due to its retention 
of the venerable tongue in which not only Augustine and Jerome, 
but Virgil, Cicero and Seneca wrote. The renewed study of the 
Civil Law in the twelfth century induced a closer acquaintance with, 

1 Comp. A. Bartoli, Sioria delta Letteratura Italiana, vol. i. p. 160. 



20 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

and in proportion, a greater admiration for, the institutions and 
jurisprudence of ancient Rome. 1 The municipalities of Rome, 
Florence and other Italian cities were modelled on the civic govern- 
ment of Republican Rome. Their common-hall was styled the 
capitol. Their officers held the old names, and so far as practicable 
attempted to exercise the functions of their classical prototypes. 
The effect of these aspirations after political institutions so largely 
founded on true ideas of human liberty, in stimulating activity of 
thought and inducing a relish for similar privileges, was immense. 
No doubt the result of these classical reminiscences was not always 
to foster a belief in the * Divine right ' whether of I*ope or Emperor. 
The ill-starred enterprises of Rienzi and Arnold of Brescia reveal 
another and more sinister aspect of ancient political studies. The 
citizens of the Italian Communes sometimes regarded with venera- 
tion the lives and actions of Brutus, Gato, the Scipios, and other 
vindicators of popular rights. Allowing for occasional excesses in 
individualism and in republican aspirations, such studies and pre- 
dilections imparted a self-reliance, and a masculine tone of feeling, 
which would naturally find expression in other directions. The 
stern impugner of the secular power of the Monarchy might be led 
to question the authority of the Papacy, especially as both claimed 
to be founded on the same basis. Whatever the primary divinity 
that originated and hedged round the Church and the Empire, the 
action of neither power on the welfare and liberties of humanity 
was so indisputably sacred and beneficial as to suggest a reverential 
abstention from all criticism. Nor were the relations that had long 
subsisted between the rival sovereignties of so harmonious a nature 
as to confirm their boasted identity of origin ; their chief harmony 
of feeling and unity of action arising from the ambition, self- 
aggrandisement, and indifference to the interests of their subjects 
which were common to both. Indeed the many feuds and discords 
between the Church and Empire — the inherent difficulty of deciding 
on the precise boundary line that separated their respective juris- 
dictions — could not but suggest to thoughtful minds an examination 
of the points in dispute, which was tantamount to, and in some cases 
involved, a rigid scrutiny of the bases on which rested the power both 
of Pope and Kaiser. 

Nor did the antagonisms of the spiritual and the secular powers 
exhaust the sources of intellectual excitation and friction which, like 
similar agencies in other cases, tended to make and keep bright the 
faculties of those exposed to them. 8 The intestine divisions of the 

1 Cf. Ginguen6, HUt. Litl. d* Italia, i. 154. 

* ' L 'esprit humaine,' says Ozanam {Dante et la Philotophie CaUiclique au 



General Causes. 21 

Papacy itself, partly on imperial, partly on ecclesiastical grounds, 
did something to secure a place for the ' indifference-point ' of 
Freedom. Especially was this the case when two rival Pontiffs, 
one at Rome the other at Avignon, claimed, each of them, to be the 
sole vicegerent of heaven, and hurled his maledictions against his- 
adversary. It was not merely a realization but an enthronization 
of 'Twofold Truth' when two infallibilities thus propounded 
opposing decrees. Not only the cynical humanist and free-thinker, 
but even warm advocates of the papacy might under such circum- 
stances pardonably choose to remain in the suspense of a halting 
allegiance. Confessed Fallibility even was a preferable alternative 
to a divided Infallibility which was both impossible and contempt- 
ible. 1 The open profligacy which characterized the Papal Court 
at Avignon, as described by Petrarca and Ariosto, was partly the 
immoral excess of a freedom of which a bipartite and self-destructive 
spiritual power was one contributory source. Indeed the vice and 
depravity of the Papacy from the twelfth century to the Reforma- 
tion reveal a moral skepticism in the sense of disbelief far more 
debasing, as well as more un-Christian, than any amount of pure 
intellectual suspense or religious doubt. Men could not help seeing 
that the interests which divided Popes- and Ecclesiastics were just 
as selfishly secular as those which set the princes of this world in 
fierce array against each other. Nor was it only a moral uncertainty 
that these intestine discords in the bosom of the Church tended to 
generate; a prior feeling was the intellectual uncertainty such a 
phenomenon was calculated to create. Upon the unity of the Church 
One and Indivisible depended not only the succession of its chief 
ministers, but the authority of its dogmas ; and in the quickening 
of men's minds by the varied stimulating influence of the Renaissance 
both these ideas were exposed to a severe critical strain long before 
Luther began to teach the principles of the Reformation. The senti- 
ment was also independent in a great measure of the existence even 
of Antipopes, for it was unnecessary to learn the dissension of the 
papacy from the quarrels of two contemporaneous pontiffs when the 
decrees of so many successive Popes, Ecclesiastical Councils and 
writers in the past revealed a similar dissidence and contradiction. 

xiii' tikde, p. 40), ' aime lea combats qui agitent les questions ; il grand it dans 
les perplex ites ; il lui faut ces conditions severes sans lesquelles rien n'est 
fertile ; la peine et la douleur. Les siecles de Pericles et d'Auguste sortirent 
de Salamine et de Pharsale. La querelle des investitures reveilla la scholas- 
tique,' etc. 

1 On this subject see Vofgt. ; JEnea Silvio, etc,, aU Papst Pius IL, vol. i. p. 27 ; 
a work which throws a flood of light on the relations between the Papacy 
and the Renaissance in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. 



22 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

II. Among the agencies that contributed tacraata and sustain the 
Free-thought of the Renaissance, in Italy, no small place_must be 
assigned to the large development of commerce and intercourse j^ith 
Foreign* slates of which Italy" Tiad heen the centre fr om an . f i arly 
period. Many obvious causes conspired to give Italy a superiority 
in this respect above all countries on the Mediterranean. The 
chief of them, and the earliest in operation were the close rela- 
tions subsisting between the old and new capitals of the Western 
Empire. It was partly a cause partly the effect of this commercial 
activity that Italy in the middle ages became the common home of 
so many different races. Foreign invasions, settlements, wars, co- 
* operated still further in diversifying its population and producing 
a still greater variety of manners and customs rad modes of thought. 
Few were the nations of Europe, fewer still" those" on the Medi- 
terranean sea-board, unrepresented in the mixed population of most 
of the Italian Communes and sea-ports. Thus the internal condition 
of Italy harmonized with the external influences" c1reaFe"cr~T>y its" 
commercial enterprise. We cannot help being remiiideo!" of the" 
similar condition of Ancient Greece, and the impulse imparted to 
Free-thought by the diversity in race, culture and religion that 
existed among the Hellenic tribes, while a still further resemblance 
is suggested by the similar results of commercial activity in each 
case. In the South of Italy, Amalfi, and Salerno had early risen into 
eminence, the first commercial, the second scientific. After their 
settlement in Italy the Normans seemed to have transferred their 
native enterprise for buccaneering, to the more peaceful avocations 
of Commerce, and by their efforts Amalfi at one period stood at the 
head of the maritime towns of Italy. An admirer of the Norman 
race thus celebrates their mercantile talents : — 

Hsec gens est totum prope nobilitata per orbem 
Et mercanda ferens et amans mercata referre. 1 

On the shores of the Adriatic, Venice at a still earlier date had 
acquired a reputation for her commerce with the East. From the 
sixth century she had been the chief emporium for the interchange 
of Italian wine, oil and manufactures, for the spices, silks, carpets, 
the products of the looms of Damascus, Bagdad, Alexandria, and 
other centres of Oriental traffic. Nor did she disdain in the early 
portion of her brilliant career a large v traffic in slaves, selling 
Christians to Mahometan masters, and Mahometan slaves to Chris- 
tians. Until the rise of the maritime power W different Mahometan 

\ 
1 Muratori, Antiq. Di$$., xxx. Comp. William of Tyrfy HUt. y lib. xviii. 



General Causes. 23 

states, nearly all the slave-trade of the Mediterranean was at one 
time in the hands of Venice. As Venice trafficked mainly with 
Alexandria and the Levant, Pisa carried on an active commerce with 
African ports nearer home. In the twelfth century we find that 
the Greek Emperors paid to Pisa and Genoa an annual bounty, 
probably to confine their lucrative trade to themselves. The wealth 
which Pisa acquired by successful commercial enterprise seems to 
have become proverbial. 

" Notior urbanis et ditior ille Pisanis," * 

i.e. ' Richer than Pisans,' is an expression found in a writer of the 
twelfth century. Nor did these Italian ports limit their operations 
to the sea-board of the Mediterranean. They gradually found their 
way into the Atlantic, and Venetian ships brought the produce of the 
far East to the sea-ports of France, Spain and England ^ I have aj - 
ready mentioned the enormous business both in Jmajicialaiid general 
mercantile transactions carried on by IFrorwacewithall the principal 
countries of Europe. Now Commerce, Tneed hardly observe, entails, 
especially with peoples of alien race, religion and civilization, an in- 
terchange not only of merchandise, the products of the earth the loom 
and the hand, but also of mental productions, of language, 8 thoughts 
and opinions, and their records in books and manuscripts. The ear- 
lier literature of Italy, beginning with the eleventh century, contains 
ample traces of such foreign Irifltience ^th^ j^pular legends, narratives 
and superstitions of the time being derivable in many instances from 

Oriental SOUrceSt thdlgh natlgft Ttalinna AyTiiTui' a^ft rx^xi^\oAT\i.\f\n 

in the reception of an hypothesis which detracts from the originality 
of their own early literature. During the two following centuries, 
stimulated by commercial activity, and aided by the adventitious 
fermentation caused by the Crusades, these traces become still more 
marked. In the thi rteenth century Dante's Divine Comedy shows us 
very clearly how. nmr . h th? i>«i;^ mind Trnn frr fining fnfi 1fyn f ^ 
with ideas derived from the philoao phy. religjoiu and literature of 
alien nations. He is himself x»»¥ew»a^' j !W*"mrry k with Greek and 
Latin thinkers, but also with th&. thought-systems of Averroes, 
Avicenna, and the great Arab Free-thinker Al-Ghazzali. Nor is his 
acquaintance less with the native literature of Europe, e.g. the 
Provencal. Dante however recognizes the dangers to strict ecclesi- 

1 Muratori, Antiq. Dus n xxx. 

* Dr. Landau in bis Life of Boccaccio (p. 200) rightly points out that Italian 
churchmen acquired Greek in order to discuss points of controversy with 
Byzantine monks, and Italian merchants of Venice and Genoa for purposes of 
commerce, long before the language was cultivated for literary purposes. 



24 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

astical orthodoxy which were likely to accrue from a too familiar 
intercourse of East and West, whether for commercial or warlike 
purposes. Thus when reproaching ' the chief of modern Pharisees ' — 
Boniface VIII. — with his war on the Colonnas, he regards his con- 
duct as the more indefensible inasmuch as his foes were orthodox 
Christians, and not enemies overt or disguised of the Church — 

1 Avendo guerra presso a Laterano 
E non co* Saracin, ne con Giudie, 
Ch& ciascun suo nemico era Cristiano 
E nessuno era stato a vincer Acri 
Ne merca'tante in terra di Soldano ' — l 

where we have a clear allusion to the ill-fame and suspected hetero- 
doxy of returning Crusaders or Oriental merchants. Similarly, 
Petrarca, though his sympathies were much more exclusively con- 
centrated in the Ancient world than were those of Dante, yet 
evinces a knowledge of all the philosophy and literature current in 
his time. To Arab thought and speculation he was especially 
averse. He opposed Averroes in the interests of Christianity, and 
ridiculed some branches of Arab science. But his reason for doing 
so was his belief that Arab learning was just as opposed to the free 
culture he advocated as scholasticism itself. But more than either 
of his two great predecessors Boccaccio represents the cosmopolitan 
spirit of the Renaissance. His ' Decameron ' — setting aside its lan- 
guage—might have been written in any one of the countries border- 
ing on the Mediterranean. It manifests a knowledp-ft and ftpprrfyiatinn 
of foreign thought s and fe eli ngs^ cus toms *r*A iflfflfl wHoh bfi ft M aL y the 
author'^"" proclivities and the width of his sympathi eg.^_lL.xfigfial8 
also a religious and phnosophicaTj^e^iclsm^alm^s^^passing into 
indifference. Clearly it is the product o? an epoch when boundaries, 
social, national and religious are beginning to lose their import- 
ance. When humanity rather than one particular section of it be- 
comes the subject of investigation, religious instincts and duties in 
their widest acceptation, rather than particular sects and creeds, be- 
come the objects of reverence and attention. 

Together with Italian flnmmAr ^ the Cru «^^ft? ypnaf qIq^ v*> pnr- 
sidered_Aa_i?Pxitributprj Jbo the_ Frep- thoug ht nf t.ViA PflmnnKAncA^ 
Few great events in mediaeval history have produced consequences 
more unforeseen and anomalous than the Crusades. Increasing at 
first the power of the Pope and the Roman hierarchy, they tended 
at last to impair and diminish it. Expected to knit together the 
Latin and Greek Churches they made their divisions wider, and 

1 Inferno, canto xxvii. v. 86. 



General Causes. 25 

added a feeling of exacerbation to their mutual relations. Intended 
to destroy for ever Mahometan power in the East they really con- 
tributed to strengthen it. Undertaken as a religious war to propa- 
gate the Eaith of Christ with the sword of Mahomet, and to vindicate 
Christian dogma against unbelievers, they really subserved the 
interests of Eree-thought. Directly, the Crusades, with the doubtful 
exception of the fourth, did not affect Italy so much as other European 
countries, as Germany, France and England. JHie_earJy.,'. establish- 
ment, of the Qommun es had overthrown feudalism in Italy before 
a.d. 1200. Thus the active co-operaHon'of this country in amove-" 
ment^so lhtrmatelj allied with feudalism waa {U 'eventedT Only 
among the Norman settlers in the South was there any vigorous 
participation with the Crusaders. Indirectly however, t he effect of 
the Crusades was per haps "greater in ttaTy'than in any other counTry 
in Europe! Partly this inuHl be aamibed tu tile 1 superior r eceptivity 
of the Italian ngf ttre^SnTTt o "the advance* flf the nation in enlighten- 
ment and civTfization. Partly lt"w*&fl a regt llt of the"Hrt lm"ate com- 
mercial In^eTCOTtrscnriiready existing "IJeTweeh Italy and the" East. 
Crusaders from'othw'Eur^petitf'WJUlJLl'lUH juumeved UVBi'larid to 
Italy in order to embark at Venice, Pisa or Genoa. Returning 
Crusaders found the shipping belonging to these ports most con- 
venient for coming back to Europe. As a rule therefore, whatever 
intellectual importation, whether in the form of thought or its written 
transcript, found its way back from the East to Europe, it was first 
examined and perhaps partly appropriated in Italy before it was 
passed on to less-favoured parts of Europe. I need not point out the 
enormous stimulus this traffic imparted to the commercial activity 
of the great marTtlmVpofVs bFTtaly, and Its addition — neither small 
nor unimportant — to the civilizing influences of that commerce. 

Passing over their political causes, the Crusades in their primary 
intention are religious wars. The Cross as the symbol of Roman 
Christianity is arrayed against all systems of dis- or mis-belief. 
Judaism as well as Mahometanism, Greek Christianity as well as 
Oriental Heathendom, is ranked as its inveterate foe. The imperious 
dogmatic spirit so long cherished by the Church, was by a favourable 
conjuncture of events transformed for a time into popular fury. 
The preaching of the first Crusade was attended with those brutal 
and fanatical outbreaks against the Jews which were so common in 
the middle ages. The unthinking populace, stimulated in many 
instances by bigoted clerics, could not discriminate between the 
Unbelief of Pagans and that of Jews. Nor was the chivalry of 
Europe which followed Godfrey of Boulogne and subsequent Crusad- 
ing leaders to the Holy Land a whit further advanced in toleration. 



26 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Few scenes are more discreditable to Ecclesiastical Christianity, 
though a direct result of its dogmatic pretensions, than the ruthless 
massacre of Jews and Saracens which attended the taking of Jerusa- 
lem, or the still more unutterable horrors and barbarities which 
marked the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade.^ There is 
~ indeed no doubt that the first result of the Crusades was to intensify 
men's religious passions, and to blind them to all sense, of Justice 
and humanity .*" Even the better qualities of chivalry, the kindness 
it enjoined to the weaker sex, its consideration for dependants, were 
quite obliterated before the unholy zeal which an intolerant ortho- 
doxy excited. But as the Crusades proceeded, much of this feeling 
of pitiless antagonism seems to have died away. Probably the 
French barons who followed St. Louis and the English chivalry of 
Richard Coeur de Lion were themselves somewhat more humane 
than the truculent soldiers of Geoffrey of Boulogne, or the ruffian 
mercenaries of Baldwin Earl of Flanders and Dandolo of Venice. 

Their warfare was less for orthodoxy, or greed under the guise of 
orthodoxy, and more for prestige ; their conduct was less swayed by 
such ignorant fanatics as Peter the Hermit, and more by the laws of 
courtesy and honour inherent in chivalry. Nor could the wise and 
beneficent toleration of Saladin have been lost on them. In contrast 
with European Kings and Priests, here they beheld a mere Paynim 
or Heathen giving effect to lessons of Christian charity and toleration 
unheard of in Christian lands. 8 In his dominions all men wore 
esteemed equal from a religious point of view. Jews were not per- 
secuted, Christians were not forbidden to worship in their own way. 
On poor Jews and Christians he bestowed alms with the same con- 
sideration and impartiality as on his own co-religion aries. Men like 
Frederick Barbarossa might well compare such conduct to that of the 
chiefs of Christendom to the merited disadvantage of the latter. 

1 A new light has been thrown on this event, and incidentally on the 
motives and aims which animated the Crusaders generally, by ' Mr. Pears' 
valuable and painfully interesting monograph*: — The Fall of Constantinople, 
being the Story of the Fourth Crusade. London, Longmans, 1885. 

8 In the Chansons de Geste the ordinary mode of defying Saracens to battle 
is the courteous formula : — 

( Felon Paien, toz vos confonde Dex.' 

* On the character of Saladin com p. Sedillot Hist, dee Arabee, vol. i. p. 285. 
The contrast between the purer morality of Moslem rulers, and the corrup- 
tion of Christian Priests and Princes, was a point of which Satirists readily 
availed themselves. For an interesting example see c Sir John Maundevile 
and the Sultan of Egypt,' in Wright and Halli well's Reliquce Antiques, vol. ii. 
p. 113. 



General Causes. 27 

Indeed it was to this comparison between Christianity and Mahome- 
tanism so forcibly suggested by the Crusades that much of the whole- 
some influence of that movement was due. 1 No doubt the comparison 
might have been made nearer home had it not been for the ignorance, 
exclusiveness, and bigotry which the Church so diligently fostered, 
and which made communication with Mahometans a heinous 
offence. By her own proclamation of a Crusade this prohibition 
was removed altogether in the East, and partly in the West. The 
relation between the rival creeds, too, was of a different character 
from that which subsisted between Christianity and Judaism, or 
Christianity and Greek and Roman thought. In the former case the 
relation in its essence was not so much an antagonism as a rivalry 
between two faiths both springing from a common origin. While 
the systems of classical antiquity were almost as multifarious and as 
devoid of any principal of union as a rope of sand, so that their 
opposition to Christianity consisted in their negative standpoint — 
with Mahometanism on the other hand the relation was of a far 
more direct and positive kind. It fought Christianity with its own 
weapons. To the formulated belief of the Church it opposed distinct 
convictions of its own. Against the authority of Christ and the Pope 
it arrayed that of Mahomet and his prophetic descendants. The 
Crusades were the climax of the long rivalry that had existed 
between the two faiths, which in effect divided between them nearly 
the whole civilized world. When therefore from their actual contact 
in Palestine as well as from the Arab civilization of Spain certain 
characteristics, doctrines, and excellences seemed inferrible as 
pertaining exclusively to neither, the effect for free- thought and 
religious toleration was of an especially startling and convincing 
description. The philosophic thinker weighing the two religions 
in impartial balances, and laying due stress on the best productions 
of each, might conceivably take up a point of suspense between the 
two ; at least he could hardly fail to see that an equitable decision 
respecting the rivals required a different standpoint from that of 
ordinary Ecclesiastical orthodoxy. Moreover this claim of the 
Moslem creed for consideration suggested to Christendom by the 
Crusades had other grounds on which to base itself. It was further 

1 It seems now agreed that the Crusades did not, at least directly, aid the 
cause of European science in the strict sense of the term. Dr. L. Leclerc, who 
in his Hittoire de la Midicine Arabe has compiled a careful inventory of the 
numberless translations that disclosed Greek and Oriental science to Euro- 
pean eyes, has found only two which can be traced to the East. Most of them 
belong to the Arab occupation of Spain. Cf. Dr. L. Leclerc, Hut. de la Med, 
Arabe, vol ii. p, 868. 



28 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

enforced by the remarkable advance of Arab races not only in 
civilization and refinement, but in the arts and sciences. In the 
twelfth century — the century of the Crusades — the foremost place 
in Medicine, Physical Science, especially Astronomy, and in Archi- 
tecture was occupied by Arabs. Even if the Koran had not con- 
tributed directly to this result it had proved no obstacle to it. 1 In 
the later stages of its development Mahometanism had undoubtedly 
manifested a plasticity, an eager appetite for knowledge, a readiness 
to adapt itself to new currents of thought and feeling far exceeding 
anything that could be attributed to Christianity as a whole. How 
far this might be ascribed to greater disinclination to slavish 
literalism, and a reliance on a body of dogmatic tradition outside the 
text of the Koran, 8 is a point we need not discuss. Whatever the 
original cause, the superiority in most respects of the Moslemism to 
the Christianity of the twelfth century is a fact every candid in- 
quirer must concede. 

That this superiority was acknowledged is amply attested by the 
records, fictitious as well as true, of the conversion of prominent 
Christians to Moslemism. I need not remind you of the ill-fame 
the Knights Templars acquired* by their sympathy with the religion 
and usages of their Saracen foes. Recent investigation has shown 
that however exaggerated these reports, they were by no means 
destitute of foundation. 8 Without dwelling longer on this part of 
my subject, which I shall again have to touch upon, we can readily 
understand that the Crusader, with no imputation on his good faith 
or his religious perspicacity, might occasionally return from Palestine 
with a more impaired faith in the Dogmas of Ecclesiastical Chris- 

1 The comparative effects of the Bible and Koran respectively on the 
growth of liberal culture within Christianity and Islamism is a subject de- 
serving investigation. It may be proved that the Koran both in mediaeval and 
modern times has offered less real opposition to the advance of secular learning 
than the Bible in the hands of misinterpreters and fanatics has done. Prof. 
Dieterici speaking of the Arab culture of the tenth century, says that th? 
influence of the Koran and Mahometan legends was only indirect. They served 
to satisfy the religious sentiment and set forth Beligion and Philosophy as 
One Truth. l Philosophic der Araber im X Jahrhundertf Mikrokosmus, p. 203. 

* The Sonnah or Mahometan tradition was never so completely substituted 
for the direct teachings of the Koran as the Dogmatic Teaching of Christian 
Churches has been for the iptiseima verba of Christ. 

8 The words of De Bracy in Sir W. Scott's Ivanhoe — 'The bruit goeth 
shrewdly out that the most holy order of the Temple of Zion nurseth not a 
few heretics in its bosom,' have been corroborated by modern research. Comp. 
e.g. F. Nicolai's Versueli aber den Tempelorden, 1782. On the other side, see also 
Dollinger's Essay, Der Untergang dee Tempelordens, in vol. iii. of his Akadem* 
ieche Vortrage^ p. 245, and the authorities there quoted. 



General Causes. 29 

tianity, and a higher respect for the miscreant * Paynim, than before 
his enterprise he could have thought possible. 

The literary outcome of this teaching we have in Boccaccio's cele- 
brated story of the Three Rings. This is, considering its amplitude 
of meaning, the earliest declaration of religious toleration we possess 
in any European language. It is also the first European essay on a 
science which even now is only in its infancy — that of Comparative 
Religions. Here we have the three great Religions, Christianity, 
Moslemism and Judaism contrasted for the first time in the spirit 
of philosophy and true humanism, with no exclusive sentiment of 
orthodoxy and carping bigotry either on one side or the other. It is 
difficult to realize the full importance of this most admirable of all 
Boccaccio's stories, and the difficulty is not lessened by the con- 
sideration that it had long existed in other collections of Tales, 2 
besides occupying a foremost place among the popular notions of his 
time, 3 before Boccaccio gave it immortality by shaping it in his own 
picturesque fancy, and embodying it in his exquisite language. Thus 
under the dread shadow of the Papacy, and even after the pro- 
mulgation of its claim for universal sovereignty, was enounced the 
startling theory of a Religious Toleration which might be interpreted 
almost as indifference — a declaration of co-equality before God for 
Jews, Moslems and Christians. If the particular moment of the 
announcement was in striking contrast to the latest pretensions of the 
Papacy, it was not less so in regard to the Anti-Judaic and Ma- 
hometan sentiment of Christendom at large. Few European towns 
of any magnitude existed, the streets of which had not flowed with 
Jewish blood, while the intensity of mutual hatred between Christian 

1 Gibbon's note on the word miscreant is still worth reading. Hist. R. E., vi. 
p. 441 (Bonn's Edition). Comp. Littre Diet. : sub. voce mecreant. 

1 Dr. Marcus Landau, in his learned Quellen des Decameron, p. 62, assigns the 
immediate source of Boccaccio's * three rings ' to the romance of * Buson da 
Gubbio ' called * the Adventurous Sicilian. 1 Whereupon Professor Bartoli in 
his I Precursori del Boccaccio, p. 27, remarks : * It is most true indeed that we 
have there an identical story. I do not however believe this justifies us in 
saying that Buson was the immediate source of Boccaccio's Tale, for I find the 
self-same story repeated in the Hebrew Treatise Schebet Jehuda, in the Qcsta 
Romanorum, in Dis dou vrai aniel, in our Cento Novelle anticke, and in the Summa 
prcedicantium of Bromyard. I learn also from Schmidt that this story was 
widely diffused in the middle ages, and I find something of the same kind in 
the old narrative of the Twelve Ancylia of Numa. Dr. Landau in his work 
above-mentioned shows reason for believing that the tale is of Jewish origin 
(Quellen, p. 64). The same hypothesis is maintained in an article by M. Michel 
Nicolas in the Correspondence iAUeraire for July 5th, 1857. Comp. on this 
subject, Burchardt, Cultur d. Renaissance, vol. ii. p. 340. Notes. 

8 Baldelli, Vita di Giov. Boccacci, p. 830. 



30 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

and Moslem daring the middle ages and the earlier Crusades could 
scarcely be exceeded. Under the circumstances it was a portentous 
declaration that there existed no true basis for the jealousies and ani- 
mosities so deeply rooted in the feeling of Christendom. No doubt 
by Christ Himself, had the relation of Moslemism to His Gospel come 
before Him, the issue would have been determined by the simple test 
of its efficacy in promoting love to God and love to Man ; but in the 
eye of the Papacy no heterodoxy could be more pronounced than a 
disavowal of absolute and incomparable superiority for the teaching 
of Christ. An attempt has been made to ascribe the origin of the 
fabulous work, 1 De Tribus Impostoribus to Boccaccio's story. The 
attempt is refuted by the bare designation of the pretended Book. 
Indeed estimating its object by its title, it must, assuming its ex- 
istence, have had an aim of an entirely opposite character. There is 
nothing in Boccaccio's story to justify the imputation of imposition. 
The difference between the rings is one of age not of intrinsic value. 
The tale if it were to have another title might be called ' De Tribus 
Religionibus,' or using the synonym then in use for Religion ' De 
Tribus Legibus.' For myself I cannot help thinking that the Book 
De Tribus Impostoribus, if really connected with Boccaccio's story, is 
merely the satirical construction given to it by some fanatical monk 
by way of bringing its moral to a reductio ad absurdum ; or else a 
polemical comment upon it, put forward by some skeptical opponent 
of all religions alike. Hallam pronounced Boccaccio's tale skeptical. 8 
No doubt it is so. If I may be allowed the paradox I should say that 
its truth, beauty and efficacy consists in what is termed its skepticism. 
The point of the story is contained in the words " E cosi vi dico, 
signor mio, delle tre leggi alii tre popoli date da Dio Padre, delle 
quali la quistion proponesti : ciascuno la sua eredita, la sua vera legge, 
e i suoi commandamente si crede avere a fare ; ma chi se 1' abbia, 
come degli anelli, ancora ne pende la quistione." 8 But the skepticism 

1 The work commonly passing under this title does not at all answer to its 
name, and is probably spurious. The best Edition of it is that of M. Gustave 
Brunet (Philomneste Junior), Paris, 1861. It may be described as a true but 
crude Essay on Comparative Religions. So far however from implying or 
asserting the falsity of the commonly received Religions, it asserts that each 
so far as it is in harmony with Nature and Reason, contains germs of Truth. 
The central proposition of the work is this: 'Religionem et cultum Dei 
secundum dictamen luminis naturalis oonsentaneum et veritati et sequitati 
esse/ p. 12 : Cf . on this subject Burckhardt, Cultur d. Renaissance, ii. p. 841. 

1 Literature of Europe, vol. i. p. 189. Gabriel Naude was of opinion that the 
story proved Boccaccio to be a perfect Atheist ! ! Naudceana, p. 88, Comp. 
Renan, Averroee, Ed. iii. p. 278. 

8 Quoted from Opere Volgari, i. p. 66. 



General Causes. 31 

herein expressed relates merely to the assumption of Special 
Authority, or the superiority of one over the rest. There is no 
skepticism implied as to the Divine origin or Ethical obligation of 
either creed. The standpoint is that of the philosophic thinker who 
can discriminate between the accidental 'variations which attach to, 
or perhaps deteriorate, each creed, and the deeper religious and moral 
significance common to the three alike. For my part I regard the 
words, uttered at such a time, as the most vigorous and outspoken 
reiteration of ' Peace on earth, goodwill to men ' that Christendom 
had listened to since the coming of Christ. 

Could Classical Pagandom with its multifarious aspects of thought 
have been described as a single religion, Boccaccio would doubtless 
have made the number of Rings four. 1 In many respects Greek and 
Roman Antiquity was much nearer to the sympathies of Humanists 
than Mahometanism. Sokrates and Plato, Virgil and Cicero were in 
far higher esteem with Petrarca and Boccaccio than Averroes and 
Avicenna. Possibly, so high was the estimate, religious as well as 
intellectual, in which the Humanists held the chiefs of classical 
culture, it was not thought necessary to include, with Jews and 
Mussulman, persons whose claims to Divine truth and immortality 
were so generally acknowledged. And here I cannot help pointing 
out the advance in point of tolerant thought which Italian Humanism 
had made in the interval between Dante and Boccaccio. Dante's 
well known pourtrayal of Mahomet as the Arch-schismatic has, as we 
shall soon see, all the customary marks of Ecclesiastical bigotry and 
malevolence. Indeed in the lines I quoted just now he seems to 
think animosity against Jews and Mahometans legitimate, while 
Boccaccio on the contrary makes the Prophet of Arabia a fellow-heir 
with Moses and Christ of the grace and love of the Eternal. Per- 
haps it might be invidious to ask how far the ecclesiastical Chris- 
tianity of the nineteenth century has attained the level of' Christian 
magnanimity and tolerance displayed by Boccaccio's Three Rings, or 
Lessing's immortal reproduction of it in ' Nathan der Weise.' Re- 
garded as a literary phenomenon, it is a somewhat curious coin- 
cidence that the selfsame lesson of large-hearted charity should have 
impressed itself upon the German ( Sturm und Drang' of the 
eighteenth century as on the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth. 

Paxtly_the outgrowth of the political and social fermentation_I 
have briefly sketched, partly an independent development of causes 



1 Cardan however makes the number of the Great Religions four by in- 
cluding Paganism as one. As to the superiority of any one over the rest he 
leaves it to chance. ' His igitur arbitrio victoria relictis ? ' 



32 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

inherent to thft Ifaljn* 1 ****** } • ♦ an y rate n^ftrrtliin p ; lw.frwftTrifl tQ [*h* 

middle ages, we meet earl y in thft~efo vftn*h AAnfnry ^ i ntflllp^ timl^ 
ptr^iwfwaiuiii i<— »iimi in HA/»/v^^jpp ^o;^ g^nr^ ?f fbfi Frftft-th^nrht 

of fliB Renaissance to which I give the general name of 



THE SECULARIZATION OF LITERATURE. 

A recent writer ascribes the commencement of this movement to 
the reaction which took place when men found that the world did 
not come to an end as the Papacy had prophesied, and as they had 
anticipated, in a.d. 1000 : ' Whereupon they took renewed possession 
of the earth, and of themselves.' l That this circumstance helped 
largely to repress the excess in other-worldliness which marks the 
dark ages, and to suggest new conceptions of the worth of terrestrial 
existence, we can readily believe. But I do not think we can make 
it the sole or even chief impulse of the Secularization of Literature, 
which I should attribute to causes operating more widely and through 
a greater extent of time. For we must remember that Literature of 
a rude kind existed in Italy throughout the dark ages. Amid its 
political struggles, the enslavement of its population by one con- 
queror after another, and the social degradation and savage manners 
engendered by these perpetual changes, there still remained a few 
straggling rays of the ancient enlightenment it once possessed. 
Notwithstanding the animosity of the Church, the honoured names 
of Latin Poets were still cherished by isolated scholars, clerical as 
well as lay, as a kind of sacred esoteric culture — a mysterious 
worship veiled to the profane vulgar. With the growth of the 
Papacy, however, all forms of Literature became Romanized. His- 
tory, Poetry, Natural Science, as well as Dialectic and Metaphysics, 
were enlisted in the service of the Church, all departments of 
human thought shared her dogmatic spirit, all were utilized for 
her own objects, all had to subserve her interests. Literature as a 
spontaneous free outgrowth of the human spirit could scarcely be said 
to exist. 

But a momentous change now set in. The human intellect began 
to rouse itself from the lethargy — the bane of societies as of indi- 
viduals — called ' Dogmatic slumber.' Reason so long the slave of 

1 A. Bartoli, / Preeursori di Rinascimento, p. 19. The removal of the terror 
caused by the expectation of an immediate end of the world was attended by 
various effects, political, social and to some extent literary. Signor D'Ancona, 
in his Precursor* di Dante, p. 42, points out as one of its results the impetus it 
gave to speculations and legends connected with the world beyond the grave. 



General Causes. 33 

Authority began to assert her own rights. Cariosity as to nature, 
humanity, literature, began to stir and disclose itself. Rudimentary 
science, or rather superstitions containing the germs of science, mani- 
fested incipient vitality. The human mind so long confined in the 
trammels of religious dogma began to exhibit a restlessness that be- 
tokened a growing dissatisfaction with the passive stolidity of its 
condition. The energies it had been compelled to devote exclusively 
to theology now demanded a wider sphere. But intellectual and 
religious revolutions do not at first alter the processes to which the 
mind has become accustomed. Guided by social instincts, and domi- 
nated by powerful associations, men generally choose to put their new 
wine into old bottles. The mind, in its progressive transmutations, 
changes not the character of its activities so much as the objects to 
which they have heretofore been directed ; and it is only by ascer- 
taining practically the inconvenience of older methods — the unfitness 
of old bottles to retain new wine — that the change is extended to one 
as well as the other. Hence we have in the commencement of Italian 
Free-thought a series of transferences of intellectual energy from 
particular departments of Ecclesiastical Literature to corresponding, 
provinces of secular learning. Thus History, concerned exclusively, 
in mediaeval times, with the record of Ecclesiastical events, began to 
chronicle political and other mundane affairs. The hymns and lyric 
poetry of the Church paved the way for poems of love and adventure, 
and the troubadour sang with equal erotic ardour the charms of the 
Virgin and of his own mistress. Legends of saints and martyrs 
were converted into stories of chivalry and ancient mythology ; and 
the wandering minstrels of the Renaissance recounted, with philo- 
sophic impartiality, the adventures of Homeric heroes, of the Paladins 
of Charlemagne's court, or the miracles performed on a saint's tomb. 
The first step towards the modern Drama was taken when the 
miracle-plays, which at first formed part of the special services of 
the Church, were gradually divorced from religion, first by being 
played outside the Church, next by giving place to " moralities " 
and to subjects taken from heathen mythology, and lastly by direct 
imitation of Latin comedy. Nor was the secularization I speak of 
confined to literature. The dialectic of the schools, once the chosen 
but not very safe weapon of Theology, was gradually found to have 
applications to the whole domain of human knowledge and ratio- 
cination; and, itself the offspring of secular learning, began to 
display strongly marked tendencies to revert to its original scope and 
object. The influence extended itself even to popular beliefs — super- 
stition was secularized. The miracles of mediaeval Romanism tended 
to create a greedy but unwholesome appetite for the marvellous in 
vol. 1. D 



34 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

.. Nature, and the exorcisms, predictions and general thaumaturgism of 
the Church prepared the way for a stronger faith in the miracles of 
astrology and magic. 

This new direction of human energy was in itself an advance, 
although its object was not in every instance more intrinsically 
valuable to human progress than that which it tended to replace. 
The current of intellectual activity, though diverted from its former 
course, did not thereby lose its former characteristics. The fetters of 
dogma, credulity, and superstition, continued to clank on the limbs 
that had achieved a partial deliverance from them. Still it was some- 
thing gained to have reached a region of speculation other than that 
included in religious teaching, even with the drawback of itself being 

-some grotesque superstition like alchymy or astrology. At least 
the change of standpoint and object of investigation involved motion, 
and contact with fresh questions and problems implied a possibility 
of intellectual stimulus. Anything was better than the barren 
stagnation of superstitious dogma, and the stolid immobility generated 
by sacerdotalism. A sentiment more pious than wise has styled the 
centuries preceding the Renaissance — * the Age of Faith.' If Faith 
it be, it is indistinguishable from the most debasing credulity. It 
was a Faith which involved and perpetrated the most cruel outrages 
on the Reason and intelligence of humanity. The incredible extent 
of superstition current, not only among the people but among the 
clergy and other learned professions, in the tenth and two following 
centuries is exemplified by a curious product of the Literature of the 
time — I mean those compilations of general knowledge, the true 
ancestors of the modern encyclopaedias, and the secular co-relatives 
of the Quodlibetal Literature of the School Theology — which by a 
curious coincidence seem to have preceded the Renaissance just as 
the Encyclopaedists of France inaugurated the Revolution. 1 There is 
no limit to the easy faith which these purveyors of general informa- 
tion seem to have demanded of their hearers. Nature they contem- 
plated through a thick dark veil of mystery and supernaturalism. 8 
The earth was the abode of various kinds of marvellous beings such 
as centaurs, griffins, dragons, some of which derived their existence 

J * The 'all inclusive* tendencies which animate these mediaeval Encyclo- 
pedists are first found in Arab learning. . As a recent author remarks, c all the 
great Arab Physicians were to a certain extent encyclopaedists.' They culti- 
vated and professed to know every branch of secular learning then in existence. 
Cf . Dr. Leclerc, Histoire de la Mtdecine Arabe, vol. i. p. 12. 

8 Comp. Prof. Bartoli'8 Summary of this Encyclopaedic lore of the middle 
ages in chap. vii. of his Sioria delta Letteratura ltaliana, pp. 281-258, and chap, 
viii. of the same author's / Primi Due Sccoli delta Letteratura Ital., pp. 220-284. 



General Causes. 35 

from pre-Christian antiquity, while others were the offspring of 
Ecclesiastical superstition. The woods were inhabited by Fauns 
which were engendered by insects found under the bark of trees, 
these were said to be born with wings but they afterwards lost them, 
and became satyrs having horns on their head and goat's feet. 

Peasants' cottages were infested with Fairies which could not be 
ejected but by exorcisms. One kind of Lamiae were mischievous 
sprites which crept into men's houses at night and perpetrated all 
manner of elfish tricks. Another kind were she-dragons inhabiting 
river caves : these were accustomed to steal away women who came to 
the rivers to bathe, and compel them to suckle their young. Geography 
was, as might be supposed, a fruitful source of marvels and portents. 
The earth was believed by some to be square, by others concave, by 
others flat. It was thought to be surrounded by the ocean on every 
side ; and the story of an anchor dropped from the sky by a ship sail- 
ing on the 'waters above the firmament ' was gravely reported, and as 
gravely credited. Islands were supposed to exist where no one could 
die, others into which no animal of the female sex could enter, others 
in which bodies buried did not putrefy, etc. A twelfth century 
writer describes India as the abode of men with one eye, men with 
one leg, headless men whose eyes were placed in their shoulders 
while two cavities in the breast served for nose and mouth, men who 
did not eat but subsisted on the odour of a certain fruit What is 
remarkable in all these encyclopaedic writers is their magnificent 
unconsciousness of ignorance. They pass from one marvel to another 
with no perception of the unusual character of the events they 
describe. No matter how startling the phenomenon they are never 
at a loss to account for it. They have just as little hesitation in 
assigning causes to earthquakes and lightning as they have to the 
miraculous properties of herbs and precious stones. They profess as 
much faith in dreams, charms and auguries as in the most common- 
place occurrences and facts of daily life. The indifference thus dis- 
played to any possible distinction between the natural and super- 
natural is extended to the sacred and secular. The Speculum Majus 
of Vincent of Beauvais — the chief encyclopaedia of the twelfth century 
— is an inexhaustible treasure-house of this antique lore, and displays 
in profusion its most peculiar characteristics. The learned author — 
for learned in the sense of erudition he most certainly was * — quotes 



1 Compare the list by Fabricius of Books and Authors quoted by Vincent. 
Biblioth. Qnxca, vol. xiv. pp. 107-125. This comprises 850 names, which are 
cited in the Speculum Natural*, etc. To these might be added, says. Prof. 
Bartoli, about 100 other authorities cited in the other two parts of his Speculum, 



36 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

with perfect impartiality, and as sources of co-equal authority, the 
works of the Ancients, the writings of the Arabs,, the decrees of 
Christian councils and Ecclesiastical writers, and the enormous 
literature, if I may use the term, oral and written, of the popular 
traditions, legends and superstitions of his own time. In two suc- 
ceeding chapters he discusses the death of Cato and the Angelic 
salutation of the Blessed Virgin. Extracts from the De Arte Amandi 
of Ovid are followed by a letter of Abgarus to Jesus. Side by side 
are dicta of Seneca and Juvenal, and miracles of the Madonna, while 
catalogues of Kings of England and France are in close juxtaposition 
with the legends of Barlaam and Josaphat. 1 To assert that this 
unconscious dogmatism — these extravagancies of belief — are exclu- 
sively attributable to similar phenomena within the Church would 
clearly be wrong. The degraded state both of Religious Belief and 
the Secular Learning of that period are traceable to the same general 
causes. 8 At the same time it is no less true that dogmatic ex- 
aggeration and religious superstition contributed to engender, cor- 
roborate, and intensify similar credulity in other directions. The 
natural tendency of all religious faith, based too exclusively on the 
supernatural, is towards extravagance. Hence the stress laid upon 
the purely thaumaturgic elements in any religion will be an in- 
fallible index to the level of general knowledge professed by its 
adherents. 

When therefore Christian preachers, contemporaries of Vincent of 
Beauvais, vied with each other in narrating the most marvellous 
stories, the way was, if not prepared, made broader and easier for the 
astrologer and magician. Superstition was sanctioned by the sacred 
authority of the Church. The ratiocination was d fortiori. If 
preachers claiming inspiration of the Holy Ghost pronounce on the 

Compare Bartoli, Storia, etc., p. 246. For a general account of Vincent de 
Beauvais, though written from the standpoint of Romanist obscurantism, see 
the Abbe Bourgeat's Eludes sur Vincent de Beauvais. Paris, 1856. 

1 Bartoli, Storia, p. 248. Cf . the same writer's I Precurscri di Minascimento, 
p. 82. 

* That there are persons who yet admire the pious unquestioning docility of 
the so-called Ages of Faith is evident : still it does provoke some little surprise 
to find Vincent de Beauvais held up as a pattern of mediaeval enlightenment in 
the nineteenth century, and juxtaposited with Anselm and Aquinas. The Abb6 
Bourgeat however does this in terms which are worth quotation if only as a 
literary curiosity. ( Vincent de Beauvais forme avec saint Ansel em, etc., etc., 
etc., saint Thomas d'Aquine, saint Bonaventure et quelques autres, une 
sorte de Pleiade philosophique bien capable de refuter tout ce que Ton a dit 
sur lea tenebres du moyen-age, son ignorance, son obscurantisme, sa barbaric. 1 
—Andes, etc., p. 10. 



General Causes, 37 

existence of these monstrosities or wonderful events, it was a plain 
testimony to their existence, and a voucher for similar narratives 
emanating from less accredited sources. Occasionally some Bishop, 
or other hierarchical potentate, might be found who inveighed against 
the superstitions practised by Christians in their daily life ; l but in 
every such case the fulmination is really directed against their 
pagan origin, and is part of the crusade which the Church of tho 
middle ages carried on against everything heathen, and which com- 
prehended in one indiscriminate anathema the works of Aristotle and 
Plato, and the festivities solemnized in honour of Saturn, Pan or 
Venus. Indeed, setting apart their pagan affinities, the Church was 
by no means anxious to extirpate superstitions which indirectly, if 
not immediately, replenished her coffers. Exorcisms e.g. were a far 
too fruitful source of income to permit a crusade against ghosts, 
daemons, witches and other supernatural disturbers of men's peace. 
Nor did the general influence of these beliefs in awakening men's 
mental independence — making them accept passively whatever dog- 
mas might be submitted to them, and prompting them to find in 
the Church a refuge from the malignant influences of Nature — escape 
the astute perceptions of mediaeval Romanism. Superstition has 
ever been the ally of a corrupt Christianity ; and it need not excite 
astonishment that there are still enthusiastic Romanists who look 
back with an eye of yearning to those ' Ages of Faith.' 

But with all due abatements, the Encyclopaedias of the eleventh and 1/ 
twelfth centuries denote an advance. Even the crude Eclecticism 
which huddled together fact and Action, sacred and secular, divine and 
human, authorities of every age and clime in one indiscriminate mass, 
was, for the time being, a higher standpoint than that afforded by the 
Church. It was a secular horizon of belief which merged Christianity 
with the supposed convictions of humanity ; and was so far a rude 
acknowledgment of the universality and impartiality of the laws of 
the world and the dealings of Providence. It also indicated the 
existence and growth of a curiosity from which, notwithstanding its 
infirm efforts at starting, much might be expected in the future. 
And it demonstrated the existence of an acquisitive power of the 
human intellect, now revived for the first time since the decline of 
Greek and Roman learning. Men like Vincent of Beauvais were not 
satisfied with investigating one department of nature or science. 
They comprehended in their scope ' omne scibile ' ' everything 
knowable' and thus betrayed their large conceptions of the range of 

1 Gomp. St. Eloi's (Minister of King Dagobert and Bishop of Noyon) address 
on this subject quoted in Lacroix's Sciences et Lettres du Moyen Age, p. 262. 



38 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Nature and Knowledge, as well as of the powers of the human mind. 1 
4thly, Although nothing can be more crude or illogical than the 
divisions under which the Encyclopaedists detail their erudition, yet 
some attempt at classification is made — Vincent of Beauvais e.g. 
divides his Speculum into ' Naturale, Doctrinale, Historiale. , Thus we 
detect some initiatory attempts at orderly arrangement, without which 
indeed all progress in knowledge is impossible. 



THE SECULARIZATION OF LITERATURE. 

II. Goliardic Poetry. 

Another and prior manifestation of the ' Secularization of Litera- 
ture ' meets us in the Goliardic Poetry of the eleventh and three follow- 
ing centuries. It would perhaps be hardly correct to call the Goliards 
Free-thinkers, and yet there is no designation that conveys with 
equal distinctness their real attitude to Mediaeval Christianity. They 
1 appear to have been/ says Mr. Wright, 2 ' in the clerical order, 
somewhat the same class as the jongleurs and minstrels among the 
laity — riotous and unthrifty scholars who attended the tables of the 
richer ecclesiastics, and gained their living and clothing by practising 
the profession of buffoons and jesters/ This was no doubt one part of 
their character ; but if we may judge of the class generally, by the 
remains of their poetry that have come down to us, it was not the 
whole. The Goliards represent various species of reactions from the 
ecclesiastical dogma and practice of the middle ages. Against its 
Belief they advocate Free-thought. To its asceticism they oppose 
naturalism; to its austerity, laxity; to its religion, humanity; to 
its excessive ' other-worldliness ' they oppose a ' this-worldliness y 
perhaps as excessive. Their poetry is clearly the outcome not of one 

1 A curious insight into this mediaeval omniscience is afforded by Picus of 
Mirandola's treatise De omni re scibile. It consists of 900 propositions on 
every conceivable subject, which he offered to defend against all comers. 
With a stretch of generosity only possible in an age of chivalry he further 
expressed his willingness to pay the expenses of all antagonists from a distance. 

• Poems ascribed to Walter Mapes, Intro., p. 10. These wandering scholars 
are amusingly described by a contemporary in the following terms : * Urbes et 
orbem circuire solent scholastici, ut ex multis litteris emciantur insani . . . 
ecce queerunt clerici Parisii artes liberales, Aureliani auctores, Bononise 
codices, Salerni pyxides, Toleti dsemones, et nusquam mores/ 

Comp. Bartoli, Storia, p. 261. For the derivation of the word * Goliard ' see 
the same work, p. 262, note 1. 



General Causes. 39 

but of many and various tendencies, though converging in the general 
direction of liberty, and emancipation from ecclesiastical thraldom. 
Besides the burlesques, parodies and extravaganzas in which the 
Goliard indulged his favourite rollicking Rabelaisian humour, he also 
sang with tenderness and true poetic feeling of Nature, human life, 
and love. He thus evinced somewhat of the natural passion and zest 
for enjoyment that distinguished Pagandom; and which ipso teste 
Ecclesiasticism had not quite obliterated. That specimens of the 
Goliardic muse are rare before the tenth century l is only what we 
might have expected ; but their rarity is compensated by the complete 
freedom from the dominant religionism of the dark ages which they 
disclose. In an early specimen of this poetry we have an exquisite 
picture of the delights of the spring-tide, conceived in a mood most 
antagonistic to ecclesiastical pessimism. 9 The Goliard recounts the 
breaking up of winter ice by the soft breezes of spring, the spreading 
of new life and verdure over the whole of Nature, the springing up of 
flowers manifold in colour and perfume. He expatiates on the new- 
born shade of the grove, on the murmuring of brooks, on the singing 
of the nightingale, the enamelling of meadows by various coloured 
flowers, the delights of walking in the summer shades, and of pluck- 
ing the fragrant rose and lily. Nor are there wanting, as naturalistic 
pendants to the picture, the delights of human love and feasting, the 
worship of Venus and Bacchus. 8 This topic of the annual resurrec- 
tion of Nature, together with the relations direct and indirect it bears 
to humanity, was a favourite one with the Goliard. That his treat- 
ment of it verges occasionally on sensuality is only what we might 
expect from the tendency of all reactions to the extreme of antago- 
nistic sentiment. Moreover he is frequently a borrower from the 
lyric poetry of Antiquity; and his thought as well as his rhythm 
sometimes echoes the poems of Horace, Ovid and Catullus. In this 
respect the Goliardic poetry may be called the last surviving child of 
classical literature, while it is certainly one source of the Proven9al 
and chivalresque poetry which succeeded. One effect of its double 
affiliation to Heathenism and Christianity is the curious amalgamation 
of ' praise of love and wine ' with expressions of religious devotion 
which it exemplifies 4 — a feature which we shall find to be common 
more or less to all the literature of the Renaissance. With the 

1 Bartoli, Storia, p. 260. 

1 Bartoli, op. cit., p. 268. 

• Bartoli, op. cit., p. 266. Comp. Poems ascribed to Walter Mopes, passim, 
See also 'Carminum Resonantium,' specimen in Wright's Early Mysteries, 
pp. 114, 115. 

4 Comp. Bartoli, Storia, p. 273. Wright's Early Mysteries, p. 120. 



40 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

vagrant and half-pagan Goliard however, the naturalism assumes 
occasionally a violent and aggressive aspect, as if it were minded to 
assert itself offensively against the religious prepossessions of 
Christendom. But we shall probably do well not to generalize too 
largely from isolated manifestations of feelings which must, on the 
hypothesis of men of mediaeval times being like men of other times, 
have found occasional expression. Besides which, these songs were 
sometimes not only the productions of thgpe who made itinerant 
minstrelsy their calling, but were the wild extravaganzas of 
mediaeval students, and therefore their pretended devotion to Bacchus 
and Venus may have no more exact relation to the general literature 
or sentiment of their time, than the drinking songs of students in 
later and more civilized periods. But the abatement here suggested 
for youthful libertinism cannot be extended to other aspects of 
Goliardic poetry. Certainly the freedom which these boisterous 
spirits allow themselves in dealing with the beliefs and worship of the 
Church is not exceeded, even if it be equalled, by the freest produc- 
tions of the Renaissance. The most sacred functions and formulas of 
the Church became the objects of impious parodies and burlesques. 
They celebrated e.g. masses of drunkards and gluttons, they com- 
posed parodies of the creed, the Lord's Prayer, and portions of the 
Gospel. 1 But it may be doubted whether the attempts of the 
Goliard- 1 - offensive as they are to us — were likely to excite horror 
among his contemporaries. The neutral territory dividing sacred 
from profane was then, as we know, not very carefully marked out. 
The Church herself, in her miracle-plays, trespassed far beyond the 
border which modern sentiment has prescribed for irreverence and 
impiety. Moreover, it was not so much Christianity in its earliest 
and simplest form, as in its " counterfeit resemblance " of Romanism, 
that roused the ire of our errant free-singer. The unholy greed of the 
Great Babylon, where everything is sold and bought, is a favourite 
topic of his muse. The lines : — 

4 Roma caput mundi est 
Sed nil capit mundum 
Quod pendit a capite 
Totum est immundum.' * 

disclose his general sentiment on this fruitful tneme. Nor does he 
spare the chief administrators of the Papal tyranny. The lash of his 



1 Bartoli, op. cit., pp. 276-277. 

1 These lines are from the remarkable poem ' Golias in Romanam Curiam.' 
Poems ascribed to Walter Mapes, p. 87. 



General Causes. 41 

eatire and invective is applied without stint not only to the Pope, but 
to cardinals, bishops, abbots and monks, especially when the last- 
named are Cistercians. 1 ' It is worthy of note/ says Professor Bartoli, 2 
'to see these obscure poets of the twelfth century raising the 
cry of revolt against that long-continued tyranny over the human 
conscience, against the ambition that aspired to universal sovereignty. 
It is inspiriting to find that tradition of holy indignation l against 
the implacable foe of civilization, and to find it in the Saturnian Era 
of Romanism, in those centuries to which many, even to-day, revert 
with longing as the happy ages of Faith.' And if this sacred zeal 
for Freedom was occasionally tainted by licence, we may remember 
the provocations the freer thinkers and Reformers of that time were 
perpetually receiving; nor must we forget — what the remains of 
Goliard poetry amply attest — the distinction that existed between 
the various members of a class whose chief common attribute was 
Bohemianism and literary vagabondage. The vehement language 
common to the more thoughtful as well as to the wilder Goliard was 
justified in the former case) by the corruptions he saw around him. 
One of these enounces a plea for the severity of his satire which must 
be pronounced irrestible : — 

* When I see evil men in their riches delighting, 
When vice is triumphant, and virtue needs righting, 
With— lust and not love men to marriage inciting, 
How can I help a satire inditing ? * 

.The Goliards were thus in many rgspects precursors of the Protestant 
Reformers ; and this accounts, as has been observed, 4 for the popularity 
of their poetry in the sixteenth century. Without pretending to a high 
moral and religious standpoint, for which their general character and 
irregular life unfitted them, they possessed enough common sense, 
and a sufficiently acute perception of human nature and the essentials 
of religion, to impel them against the organized hypocrisy and am- 
bition of Romanism. They were not preachers of the Newer Faith; 
but, in their r6le of popular satirists, they aided its advent. 

I have already remarked the devotion of the Goliard to classical 
antiquity. Their semi-Pagan instincts brought them into closer 
union with the freer spirits of the Roman Empire than with the 
authorities of the Church. They therefore contributed materially to 



1 Com p. Poems attributed to Walter Mapes, p. 54. 

• Storia, etc., p. 281. 

• Poena attributed to Walter Mapes, p. 153. 

4 Mr. Wright's Preface to Poems of Walter Mapes, p. xxiv. 



42 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

accelerate the Renaissance, considered as a secular movement of pure 
Humanism. Together with the old moralities in which the lives and 
adventures of Pagan heroes were ' moralized ' for the instruction of 
the people, their poetry, sang or recited in taverns, at fairs and 
markets, and generally in places of public concourse, 1 was a chief 
source of popular information as to the personages of Antiquity. 
They took as their themes episodes of the Iliad, the adventures and 
death of Hector, the fall of Troy, or they recounted the adventures of 
JEneas, the misfortunes of Dido and other favourite classical stories. 
The Gods of Olympus were often nearer to these wild spirits than the 
invisible Deity of Christianity, or perhaps it would be truer to say 
that they did not discriminate between one and the other. They 
saw no impropriety in recognizing the Divine omniscience by a 
heathen formula — cor patet Jovif and were conscious of no incon- 
gruity in identifying the exploits of Zeus, or the labours of Herakles, 
with events in the life of Christ. They incited each other to drink 
by the phrase imitemur superos. They saluted their mistresses by 
heathen names — Dido, Niobe, Helen, Venus, etc. They were ready in 
the application of Pagan instances to illustrate the events of their 
own time, and manifested much wit and shrewdness in the process. 3 
Their undisguised heathen proclivities laid them open to the satire 
afterwards lavished on the Humanists of the Renaissance. 

( For their God they all take Bacchus, 
And for Mark they all read Flaccus, 
In lieu of Paul they Virgil choose, 
And for Matthew I^ucan use.' * 

i 

We may therefore date from the Goliards that confused blending of 
Heathen with Christian tradition which is so characteristic of the 
Renaissance, and which distinguishes Christian Free-thought down to 
the commencement of the eighteenth century. The Church, as may 



1 The practice of singing verses in public was not confined to itinerant 
clerics, minstrels and jongleurs. As late as the sixteenth century there are 
woodcuts representing Lorenzo di Medici himself singing to the citizens of 
Florence. 

• Poems ascribed to Walter Mapes, p. 74. 

8 Compare e.g. these lines on the rapacity of the Papal Curia : — 

4 Jupiter dum orat 
Danem, frustra laborat 
Sed earn deflorat 
Auro dum se colorat. • . • ' 

Bart., op. cit., p. 288. 

* Bart., op. cit., p. 286. 



General Causes. 43 

be supposed, did not regard with favour the irregular lives and law- 
less sentiments of her vagrant children. It was not so much their 
lax morality as their free-thought, and their invectives against Papal 
hypocrisy and corruption, that gave offence. They were accord- 
ingly often denounced by the Romish hierarchy with the customary 
vituperation and anathemas. But little recking abuse which their 
disdain of the ( Great Babylon ' induced them to treat with scant 
respect, these merry minstrels still pursued their vocation, singing of 
life and love, of Nature and freedom, of joy and feasting whenever 
they could obtain an audience. The residences of free-thinking 
cardinals and jovial bishops and abbots, rather than the castles of 
feudal barons, constituted their chief ' houses of ,call.' In the former, 
they were certain of finding circles by which their caricature of 
monkish Latinity, their classical allusions, their puns and jests were 
sure of appreciation, as well as of their usual wage of cast-off cloth- 
ing and abundance of food and drink. Their employment as popular 
and lay minstrels began to fail when their language — the colloquial 
Latin of the middle ages — was transmuted into the dialects which 
gave birth to the Romance languages ; though their songs still con- 
tinued to enliven many a convent refectory, and to amuse the guests 
of cardinals and prelates for some centuries afterwards. 

It would take us too far afield to consider all the relations that 
exist between the Goliard poetry, especially as to its tone and 
spirit, and subsequent kindred developments of the secularization of 
literature. The chief ' tendencies that distinguish it, its exuberant 
naturalism, its mocking spirit, its love of jesting and profane raillery 
are found to characterize succeeding outgrowths of Romance Litera- 
ture. The * Chansons de Gestcf and 'Poems of Adventure' of the 
jongleur, the Fabliaux and Conies of the earliest French novelists, 
and, somewhat later, the prose Novelists of Italy are all permeated by 
the Goliard spirit of Free-thought. The Jongleur and Fabulist carry 
on the warfare with sacerdotal corruption and hypocrisy, and the 
free criticism of Romish dogmas initiated by the Goliards, some of 
them assuming not only their spirit and language, but the mask of 
their semi-clerical callings. These singers and contours burlesque 
the offices, and parody the formularies, of the Church. They ridicule 
excommunication, mock at the doctrines of Purgatory and Hell-fire, 
and view with suspicion every dogma and function which the Church 
has made a source of revenue. Some idea of the extent of their free- 
dom may be obtained by an examination of the works of Rutebceuf, a 
Trouvere of the thirteenth century. This writer attacks in a mingled 
spirit of hardihood and mockery most of the beliefs and preposses- 
sions of his time, Rome is saluted as the fountain of all evils ; — 



44 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

' De Borne vient li max qui les vertus asome 

***** 

Rome, qui deust estre de nostre loi la fonde 
Symonie, avarice, et tos max i abonde : l 

He satirizes Pope, Cardinals and Friars, depicts the irregular life, 
the insatiable greed and dishonesty of the clergy generally, reveals 
some curious details as to the working of Romanist dogmas, e.g. 
Prayers to the Virgin, 8 ridicules and burlesques Belief in Purgatory 
and Prayers for the dead, 8 throws the cold water of common sense 
upon the Crusades and exposes the mischiefs, national, social and 
religious, that attended those holy enterprizes. 4 Rutebceuf, though a 
remarkable writer, is only one of a considerable number of Free 
singers who opposed themselves, in a spirit of liberty, not unalloyed 
with licence, to the beliefs, usages and preconceptions of mediaeval 
Christianity ; and whose works are even now only beginning to be 
appreciated in their true relation to European culture. You will not 
need any description of the purport of the better known of these free 
legends, those e.g. of Reynard the Fox, 6 and the Romance of the 
Rose. 6 They are really popular satires on the beliefs of Romanism. 
They are exponents of a late-born but widely diffused sentiment 
which recognizes the conflicting interests of humanity and sacer- 
dotalism, and which dares prognosticate the victory of the former 
over the latter. By these writers all beliefs and usages of the time 
are presented with their ' seamy side ' outwards, and are regarded as 
fitting objects of criticism, possibly also of ridicule. They are, as I 
have said, legitimate successors, in everything but language, of the 
Goliards, and they contemplate the fabric of mediaeval thought from 
a Goliardic standpoint. Nor are numerous successors of these free- 
spirits wanting in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the 
latter indeed the whole of the popular literature — the ballads, 

1 (Euv. Comp., ed. Jubinal, vol. i. p. 288. 

* (Euv., vol. i. p. 829. 

* ' (Test li Testament de VAneS (Euv., ed. Jubinal, i. p. 278. 

4 c La Desputizons dou CroisU et dou Descroiziif. i. p. 124. The Cathari and 
Waldensians were vehemently opposed to the Crusades, and regarded their 
sanction by the Popes as a deadly sin. D'Argentre, Coll Judic., i. 57. 

5 Comp. Bartoli, Storia, etc., p. 808. 

* M. Martin calls John de Meung the principal author of this Romance, 
1 tin Rabelais du Moyen Age,' and adds, ' on pent dire qu'il depasse d'avance 
Rabelais dans la Negation, car le cynicism est chez lui moindre dans le 
langage et plus radical dans le fond, et il est loin d 'avoir au meme degre que 
Rabelais, ces entrailles humaines, cette philosophic de bon coeur et de grand 
sens, qui rachete la licence du cure de Meudon.'— 2Ti*t. France, iv. p. 574. 



General Causes. 45 

satires, tales, burlesques and farces — of France, Germany, Italy and 
England are quite permeated by this free spirit, and enamoured of its 
free expression. Rabelais may, in tone and method, claim to be the 
last of the Ooliards, while the most remarkable of the later writings 
animated by its spirit were the famous 'Li terse obscurorum Virorum.' 
The Ooliardic poetry belongs especially to the Church. Jt is the 
composition of men who if not clerics themselves were hangers on to 
the skirts of Prelates and Cardinals. Their muse employs the 
language of the Church. It is the latest literary offshoot of colloquial 
Latinity, before the birth of the Romance languages. But this event 
introduces us to another phase of the ( Secularization of Literature.' 
I mean that which we have in Provencal Literature. 



THE SECULARIZATION OF LITERATURE. 

III. Provencal Poetry. 

Provencal Poetry, as a whole, may be regarded as the combined 
product of two influences that came into operation in the eleventh 
century. The first being the rise of chivalry, the second the rapid 
transmutation, in the South of France, of low mediaeval Latin into the 
Langue d'Oc. Chivalry has often been called the poetry of Feudalism ; 
but it is not an essential attribute of the Feudal system, nor is it 
contemporaneous with it in origin. The humanizing effects of loyalty 
to duty, pity for the weak, generosity and unselfishness which it 
inculcated, begin to be especially marked in the twelfth century. 1 In 
its origin, and many of its qualities, Chivalry may claim to be an 
offshoot of Arab culture and literature. In fact there are two sources 
or two ages of European chivalry ; the first before and independent 
of the Crusades, derived from peaceful intercourse with Arabs settled 
in Spain and the South of France and Italy, as well as from com- 
mercial intercourse with those of the Levant and the north coast of 
Africa. The second, after the Crusades, bearing the impress of those 
expeditions and diffusing the gentleness, magnaminity and culture 
derived from association with the soldiers and courtiers of Saladin. 
Nor were the newer refining influences imparted by the now civilized 
Saracen, whether Eastern or Western, exclusively of a social kind. 
The Poetry and Literature of the Arabs found entrance into Courts 
and Literary circles in France and Southern Italy, just as their 
philosophy and medical science obtained a hearing in mediaeval 
schools and universities. Of this popular Arabic Literature, 

1 Comp. Littre, Hut. de la Langue Fran., i. p. 178. 



46 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

diffused as all such literature must be before the age of printing 
by wandering minstrels (raouis), the two themes were love and 
warlike deeds. Just as the Jongleur and Troubadour sang in the 
'Baron's hall, or to a street crowd, their romance of love and heroism, 
so did the errant Saracen singer dilate on the same topics in the tent 
of the Bedouin Sheik, or in the homes of opulent Moorish merchants. 
Thus both the taste for chivalrous romance, and the customary 
method of its gratification, are legacies derived in a great measure 
from Saracen settlers in Europe ; and the poetry of the Troubadours, 
setting aside certain peculiarities of taste, turns of imagination which 
are referrible to difference of race, thought and religion, is really 
modelled on that of the Arabs. 1 Nor is it only a resemblance of 
literary product, and its diffusion by the same method of wandering 
minstrels, that here meets us. The style and rhythm of the Trouba- 
dour are copies from his Arab teacher, and even the instrument on 
which the Jongleur and Troubadour accompanied their songs, was 
the three-stringed lyre which his Arab brother-singer 9 had long 
employed for the self-same purpose. 

It will result from these remarks that the main sources of 
Provencal Literature are to be found in the two great settlements of 
Saracens in Europe : first in Spain and the South of France in the 
seventh and eighth centuries, the second in Sicily and Calabria, in the 
ninth and tenth centuries. 3 Italy lay between these two sources of 
Arab enlightenment, but it was from the latter that she acquired her 
• earliest leavening of Provencal Poetry. From the Norman Kingdom 
of Sicily, permeated by the Saracenic civilization of the conquered 
race, a continuous stream set in of Troubadours and their character- 
istic minstrelsy towards the Courts and towns of South Italy. This 
southern stream was met, somewhat later, by a northern influx which 
had its source in Provence and the country round Toulouse. The 
latter was greatly increased by the nefarious crusade which Innocent 
III. directed against the peaceable, liberal and comparatively 
speaking cultured inhabitants of South France, which had the effect 
of driving the Troubadours from their native home, and dispersing 

1 Sismondi, De la Litterature du Midi, etc., vol. i. chap. 8. This, it may be 
added, is the usual theory which more recent French historians seem inclined 
to discard, though less on historical grounds than from a natural but not 
commendable wish to preserve the indigenous character of Provencal poetry. 
Comp. e.g. M. C. Aubertin, Hist, de la Langue etdela Litterature Fran^aieee au 
Moyen Age, vol. i. p. 296. 

1 Bartoli / Primi due Secoli, etc., p. 47 and notes. 

* For an enumeration of the advantages conferred by the Saracenic invasion 
on Sicily and Calabria, comp. Sedillot, Hut. Gen. dee Arabee, i. p. 80S. 



General Causes. 47 

them through the northern half of Italy. Not that these two streams 
of Provencal Literature exhaust all the sources of chivalrous and 
literary culture which Italy possessed in the eleventh and twelfth 
century. In middle Italy also, the chansons dc geste, the deeds of 
chivalry, the legend of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, 
the prowess of Charlemagne's Paladins were themes which itinerant 
minstrels sang everywhere, both in the private houses of the wealthy 
and to crowds assembled in the streets. 1 Later on, with the revival 
of classical literature, these popular singers added to their repertoire 
stories of ancient mythology; and the old Homeric rhapsodist who 
sang the anger of Achilles and the death of Hector 2 to the Hellenic 
tribes 600 B.C. seemed to have come to life again in mediaeval Italy 
from his sleep of eighteen centuries. 

Thus in its very origin, Provencal Poetry may be said to have been 
pledged to a certain freedom of thought and liberty of utterance. 
Forcibly stimulated, if not altogether engendered, by Arab literature 
and Mahometan culture, it found its chosen abode among Courts and 
peoples whose literary, political and religious sympathies all pointed 
in the direction of Freedom, and aversion to the tyranny of Rome.. 
The themes it discussed contravened directly or indirectly all the 
religious traditions of mediaeval Christianity. Its gay science (el gai 
saber) was et nomine et re opposed to the gloom and asceticism of 
mediaeval Christianity. Its celebration of chivalry and its carnal 
prowess was a tacit reproach to the passive virtues of mediaeval 
saints. Its stress upon the concerns of this life conflicted with the 
excessive but simulated other-worldliness of the Papacy. The 
sense of mental independence and individual self-assertion which 
every free literature naturally generates was quite antagonistic to the 
helpless imjbecility which the Romish priesthood laboured to induce. 
Remembering the combined superstition and corruption of the Church, 
we can imagine the new life, the unrestrained joyousness, the sense 
of freedom, which the tendencies and indirect influences, more than 
the overt teachings, of Provencal Literature served to diffuse. A 
charming picture of the popularity of the Troubadours and the reign 

1 Comp. Littre, Hut, de la Langue Fran., i. p. 176. 

• Poggio, in his Facetue (Edition Liseux, vol. i. p. 182), has an absurd story 
of a man who after listening intently day after day to an Improvisator 
engaged in declaiming the deeds of Hector, was greatly pained to hear him 
announce that on the morrow he would conclude his recitations with the death 
of Hector. By means of bribes he contrived to postpone time after time the 
death of so brave a warrior. But his means being at last exhausted, the 
Improvisator pursued his theme, the poor man accompanying the recitation 
with tears and groans. 



48 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

of song and music in Provence we have in a few sentences of Raimon 
Vidal's Treatise on metrical art, which I transcribe from Mr. Hueffer's 
work on the Troubadours : ! — ' All Christendom/ he says, ' Jews and 
Saracens, the emperor, kings, dukes, counts and viscounts, commandeis, 
vassals and other knights, citizens and peasants, tall and little, daily 
give their minds to singing and verse-making, by either singing 
themselves or listening to others. No place is so deserted or out of 
the way, that, as long as men inhabit it songs are not sung either by 
single persons or by many together; even the shepherds in the 
mountains know of no greater joy than song. All good and evil 
things in the world are made known by the Troubadours.' The last 
phrase indicates the peculiar combination of bard, musician, litera- 
teur, chronicler, newsman which were bound up in the calling of a 
Troubadour, and which made his teaching a kind of secular education 
for the people. But the Church soon grew sus picious of a culture 
that did not emanate from herself, did not speak her language, 8 
express her thoughts, or adopt her teachers, and was assumed to be 
contaminated with the association and sympathy of Jews, Turks, 
Infidels and Heretics. The Troubadours in truth were free-thinkers. 
Not that they directly opposed or in most cases even criticized the 
dogmatic stru cture of the Church ; but they ignored them, and that 
of itself was suspicious. Besides which, their thought and teaching 
pointed, as we have seen, in» a direction diametrically opposed to 
sacerdotalism. No more than this was needed to alarm the bjgpJbty 
and rouse the tyranny of Borne. To what purpose was it to wage 
war on infidels beyond seas when those near home were allowed to go 
free ? Accordingly Innocent III. proclaimed that nefarious crusade — 
one of the worst of the many outrage s which Romish Christianity 
has perpetrated against humanity and civilization. The sacred 
symbol of the cross — so often arrayed against the spirit and teach- 
ing of the crucified — was uplifted in this unholy mission, and the 
pledge of divine love and spiritual freedom, was degraded into an 
emblem of inhuman savagery, foul lust, and revolting cruelty. 

The crusade against the Provencals concerns us only in its relation 
to Free-thought. We may therefore pass over that horrible picture 
of religious fanaticism — the bloodthirsty barbarity of Simon de Mont- 
fort — the ruthless massacre of whole towns and villages 8 — the 
contemplation of churches whose pavements were covered knee-deep 

1 P. 12a 

1 The use of the Provencal language was forbidden to students by a Bull of 
Pope Innocent IV. in 1245. 
8 Coznp. on this subject H. Martin's HUt. de France > voL iv. p. 32. 



General Causes. 49 

with the blood of the unarmed crowd — most of them women and 
children — who had vainly sought refuge in them — the numberless 
detailed scenes of spoliation and depravity perpetrated by the 
1 soldiers of the cross ' — the heartless cynicism and inhumanity with 
which they avowed their shameless deeds — the pitiful silence, 
desolation and misery that followed the footsteps of the Papal he ll- 
hounds — the transmutation of a lovely champaign country, redolent 
of prosperity, quiet felicity and rural beauty, to a wild desert, 
defouled with the unburied corpses of its peaceable inhabitants, and 
with the blood-stained ashes of their once happy homes. The 
crusade I have hinted, f was really directed against Free-thought, 
secular learning and enlightenment. These and not the dual Deities 
of the Manichseans, nor the peculiar but innocent fancies of the 
Gatharists stirred the }iol y zeal of Innocent, and the inhuman trucu- 
lence of his worthy lieutenant Simon de Montfort. But like all such 
outrages on civilization the attempt recoiled on its perpetrators. No 
doubt Provencal Literature was in a great measure extinguished. 
The language of its war songs and love ditties gradually ceased to 
exist, though this was in part a natural operation dependent on the 
laws which govern the growth and decay of languages. The happy 
home of the Troubadours was demolished. Its laws and customs 
completely reversed. Instead of the mild sway of the Counts of 
Toulouse, 1 the Inquisition erected its detestable tribunal in that 
town, from henceforth to be distinguished in history as the ferocious 
persecutor of all heretics. But on the other hand the event con- 
tributed to disperse the Troubadours and their art throughout 
Europe. Those who escaped the £apal butchery added a new theme 
to their songs of chivalry. They described in words of glowing 
indignation the character of this peculiar propaganda of ' Peace on 
earth, good will to men.' Professor Settembrini, in his ' Lectures 
on Italian Literature ' 8 quotes a Serventes or poetical diatribe by 
one of these minstrels in which Borne is anathematized with a hearti- 
ness of vituperation that recalls her own fulminations. Here is a 
specimen : — 

1 No wonder, Rome, that the world is in error, because thou hast 
imbrued this age in affliction and in war, and by thee both merit and 
pity are dead and buried. Rome, thou deceiver, source and root of 
all evils, by thee the good king of England was betrayed.' 

1 On the character of Raimund VI., oorap. Martin, Histaire de France, iv. p. 
19. 

• Vol. i. p. 56. Comp. the mo9t damning testimony of a Troubadour as to the 
iniquitous character of the crusade contained in M. Fauriel's Histoire de la 
Crusade centre Ue Albigeois, etc, Par. 1837. 

VOL. I. E 



I 



50 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

1 Rome thou deceiver, Avarice blinds thee. Thou fleeces t thy flock 
while still living. may the Holy Spirit that took human flesh 
listen to my prayers, and break thy beak, because thou art false and 
villainous to us and to the Greeks/ 

' Eome, thou devourest the flesh and the bones of thy silly victims, 
and leadest the blind with thyself into the ditch/ etc. 

1 The fire of hell await thee, Rome, 7 etc., etc. 

Most of these expatriated minstrels turned their faces to North 
Italy, and found a warm welcome in the Free towns and in the 
houses of the nobility and opulent citizens. There they both kept 
alive the story of Roman tyranny and barbarity, and aided in the 
diffusion of the freer culture that was then extending itself from one 
end of Italy to the other. It would indeed be difficult to overstate the 
debt, which early Italian Literature owes to that of the Provencals. 
Setting aside the language, all the earlier mental products of Italy, up 
to the time of Dante, are hardly more than reproductions of the Poetry 
of the Troubadours. Their themes, modes of thought and diction, 
their rhythm -and style are copied with extreme, and even servile, 
punctiliousness. The general subject of these literary firstf raits, 
which are themselves Sicilian, and hence connected geographically 
with one main source of chivalresque poetry, was that which especially 
ocoupied the pens and lyres of the Troubadours, viz., Woman's Love. 
This harmonised with the new Cultus of the Virgin, which since the 
time of St. Bernard had taken such vigorous root in the religious 
sentiment of Catholicism, and which forms in reality the devotional 
side of chivalry- Thus the lays of the Troubadour expressed with 
equal enthusiasm either the charms of his frail earthly mistress or 
the physical beauty with which his imagination invested the 
Madonna. If the intimate relation of such divergent objects of 
adoration sometimes imparted a laxity of thought and sensuousness 
of expression to what was a religious feeling, it also had the effect 
of directing into human channels sentiments hitherto regarded 
as exclusively divine. It therefore aided in the great task of the 
Renaissance — that of humanizing mediaeval Theology. The result of 
this process, both in itself and in elevating to an idealistic extreme 
the eharms of womanhood, we shall see further when we come to 
Dante and Petrarca. 

An incidental proof of the effect of Provencal Poetry in advancing 
Free-thought is lastly to be found in its continual association with 
all the most progressive culture of. the eleventh and twelfth centuries. 
Troubadours, Jongleurs, Improvisatore, were continual attendants on 
learned Princes, and the companions of learned men. In the Court of 
that enlightened sovereign Frederick Barbarossa — the most remark- 



General Causes. 51 

able example of Free-thought and Religious Tolerance in the age 
preceding the Renaissance. — Troubadours and their productions 
occupied a prominent position. As professors of belles Lettres, they 
intermingled as a relaxing and recreative element among the arid 
studies and avocations of the mathematicians, Aristotelians and 
physicians who frequented that Court. They formed part, too, of the 
personal entourage of that benign and tolerant prince William II. of 
Sicily. They were also attendants on the petty Moorish Princes in 
Spain, and associated on terms of equality with the mathematicians 
and philosophers those liberal potentates fostered. 1 The marks of 
this learned intercourse are still traceable in the remains of Provencal 
Poetry. Hence while that Poetry constituted the popular Literature 
of Italy before the birth of any indigenous product of the kind, it 
prepared the way for and stimulated the growth of that native 
learning. It also liberalized to a certain extent the culture and 
erudition, and helped to give lightness and flexibility to the style of 
philosophers and men of learning : in short, without its humanizing 
and Free-thinking influences, Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio, the 
noblest products of Italian culture would have been inpossibilities. 



THE SECULARIZATION OF LITERATURE. 

IV. Mysteries and Moralities. 

A certain secondary influence on the Secularization of Literature 
which prepared the way for Italian Free-thought must, in the next 
place, be assigned to the mysteries, moralities and general scenic 
representations which in some form or other go far back into 
mediaeval times. 8 

The early Church in its warfare against Paganism could hardly 
have omitted the Roman theatre from the scope of its animosity. 
Indeed few aspects of Heathenism in the latter days of the Roman 
Empire merited more the reprobation of Christian teachers ; and cer- 
tainly few things contributed more to the moral degradation which 
marks so profoundly the decadence of the Roman power, than the 
fondness of the people for theatrical exhibition and spectacular 
shows. Hence we cannot feel surprised that Tertullian, Augustine, 
Basil launched out into bitter invectives against the Theatre, that 
they bestowed on it the appellations 'Sacrarium Veneris/ 'caveas 

1 Comp. Sismondi, LUterature du Midi, etc, vol. i. chap. iii. 
* Some of the earliest mysteries date so far hack as the end of the fifth 
century. Comp. Jubinal MysUres incdit*, 1837, passim. 



52 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

turpissimas Diaboli.' * This strenuous opposition of the Church com- 
bined with other causes political and social, especially the disturbed 
condition of Italy from the fifteenth century onwards, gradually 
effected the extinction of the old theatrical tradition derived from 
Greece and Rome. The precise time when this took place is differently 
stated. A French critic, M. Charles Louandre, who has carefully 
investigated the matter, places it about 700 a.d. But it is easier to 
repress any specific manifestation of the natural instincts of civilized 
humanity than to destroy the sources whence it springs. Accord- 
ingly we find that long before the disappearance in Italy of all 
interest in and knowledge of the classic drama, rudimentary modes 
of scenic representation had sprung up within the Church itself, 
forming indeed a portion of her ordinary worship. I allude to the 
ancient Mysteries and Moralities. The Mysteries were, in the first 
instance, mere paraphrases in dialogue either of Scriptural narratives 
or ecclesiastical legends. They were unaccompanied either by 
dramatic action or scenic display. Their sole office was to pourtray 
more vividly, by the aid of two or three interlocutors, some scene in 
the Bible, or in the lives of saints. Later on they developed in the 
direction both of scenic representation and of dramatic action and 
dialogue. The great events in the life of Christ came to be set forth 
in a picturesque form, sometimes in dumb show, at other times, with 
the accompaniment of narrative and dialogue. Nor were these his- 
torical representations restricted to sacred narratives : sometimes the 
legends of Pagandom were employed to teach moral lessons after the 
manner of the Gospel Parables ; and when the moral was inculcated 
as a distinct and permanent part of the representation the piece was 
called a Morality. Allegory and symbolism are indirect modes of 
thought and teaching common to all imaginative races. In early 
Christianity they constituted, as we know, prepotent influences in 
its literature and worship. Allegorical personages such as Vice, 
Virtue, Indolence, Luxury, etc. were employed at a very early period 
in the histrionic attempts of the Church, from whence they passed 
into the initial stages of every drama in Europe. The indirect 
methods of allegory, combined with freedom in its application, enabled 
the Church to utilize, for her own purposes, histories and legends, 
perhaps of popular interest, which in their prima facie acceptation 
were worse than useless. Thus the events of the Old Testament of 
whatever character were Christianized by Allegory. Notwithstanding 
the strain sometimes put upon them, considered as historical narra- 
tives, or their obvious distortion, regarded as stories of questionable 

1 Oomp. Bartoli, IJPrimi due Secdi, etc., p. 174, and Storia, etc., p. 200. 



General Causes. 53 

morality, they were rendered not only innocuous, but improving 
and edifying by being run into the symbolical moulds of the Church. 
A collection of the fantastic adaptations by which the events of 
Jewish history were twisted into types and emblems of Christianity 
would be a literary curiosity. 1 Nor was it only the events of the 
Bible that were thus treated. Those of heathen antiquity received a 
similar adaptation. All the symbols, persons and events of Greek 
and Roman history were types of corresponding personages, etc. 
described in Sacred Literature. Thus, to quote Professor Bartoli, 2 
1 The Peacock, the bird sacred to Juno, employed on Roman monu- 
ments to signify Apotheosis, expressed on Christian tombs the immor- 
tality of the soul. The Phoenix typified the Resurrection. In the 
catacombs of St. Calixtus, Orpheus playing on the lyre is a symbol 
of Christ, who with the beauty of His words draws all hearts after 
Him. In another place Ganymede and the Rape of Proserpine 
symbolize premature death. Starting from the same idea, the 
Saturnian age found its scriptural approximation in Eden, Deucalion 
in Noah, Eurydice- in Lot, the travels of ^Eneas in those of Moses, 
Cecrops in Abel, Ajax in Jacob, Troy in Egypt.' Nor did the 
ingenuity of Christian teachers stop here. As if they prided them- 
selves on the transmutation to their own purposes of unlikely or 
obstinate materials, they subjected even 'Ovid's Metamorphoses/ 
to a metamorphosis as great as any of them, and interpreted the 
legends of Pliny and equally veracious stories from other sources 
to purposes of Christian edification. Moreover the moralities drama- 
tized within the Church took also the didactic form of collections of 
legends. Of these moral stories the popular collection in the four- 
teenth century was the Qesta Romanorum y in which heathen legends 
of every degree of questionable truth and morality are carefully alle- 
gorized in order to subserve the interests of the Church. No doubt 
these moralities, whether representations or didactic stories, operated 
indirectly in a manner different from that in which the Church 
intended to apply them. If they served the interests of dogmatic 
belief by presenting in a vivid form the teachings of the clergy, they 
also diffused among the people some rudiments of Classical Literature, 
and thus helped to prepare the way for its revival during the Re- 
naissance. 

The stage of culture in the mediaeval Church which I have thus 
glanced at, and which is marked by mysteries, allegorical shows, 
and moralities, is perfectly inexplicable on general grounds apart from 

1 See some extravagances of allegorical exegesis in the middle ages collected 
by Mr. Mullinger in his School* of Charles the Great, pp. 90, 186. 
* Storia, etc., p. 85. 



54 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

the circumstances of the case : I mean the state of general knowledge 
among the poorer classes, the fewness of their opportunities for 
increasing it. Every- historical religion has in its very nature and 
origin dramatic elements. Every human life, every actual event 
may be made to assume, in its relation or commemoration, a represen- 
tative character; though a strong tendency to histrionic display as 
part of religious worship will invariably be accompanied by a 
diminished appreciation of the ethical and spiritual elements in a 
given religion. The ordinary, and especially the Eucharistic, services 
of all Christian churches have necessarily much in them that is 
symbolical and dramatic. The Mass has been termed ' the Great 
Drama of Christendom,' and there is no doubt that in the relation 
and sequence of its different parts we have all the main features 
of a dramatic performance. We cannot therefore wonder that, in 
the mediaeval Church, it was found expedient to resort often to repre- 
sentation rather than narration, and to attract by scenic display 
worshippers who in general culture were not far above the level of 
children. 

The exact line between the ' mysteries ' and ' moralities,' on the 
*one hand, and miracle-plays on the other, is difficult to draw ; it may 
even be doubted whether in the middle ages any great distinction 
existed between them. One probable difference may perhaps have 
been that the plays had more of the dramatic element in their con- 
struction, and were generally, though not exclusively, drawn from 
sacred sources. Of course with the advance of the histrionic art 
the moral of the story or representation became more and more 
interwoven into the structure ofthe piece, and was evolved by the 
action of the performers, or the denoument of the plot, so that a 
separate enunciation of its didactic purpose became needless. Thus 
the transition of the Morality to the more developed form of the 
Miracle-play was like the transformation in the office of the Greek 
Chorus when it gradually lost its explanatory function, and became 
nothing more than a half-religious comment upon the transactions 
and characters of the drama. Moreover the miracle play, like 
the mystery, was often a tableau vivant^ though with a more elabo- 
rate dialogue, of some of the sacred scenes connected with the life 
of Christ, or of the Apostles and saints of the Church, such as you 
may see on the festivals of the Church at Naples and most other 
Italian towns at the present day. 1 They were both written and 

1 The ' Mystery of the Nativity '—the ancestor of the Feast of * Gesu 
Bambino ' with its 'presepe ' and other accessories so delightful to the children 
of South Italy in the present day, goes far back to mediaeval times, probably 
to the sixth century. 



General Causes. 55 

played by the clergy ; though they frequently treated of profane 
subjects, and that too after a manner neither Christian nor edifying. 

What is remarkable in the development of these plays, and what 
we have to note for our purpose, is their participation in the Free- 
thought which marks other departments of intellectual activity in the 
eleventh and two following centuries. The secularization of the old 
religious drama is indeed a process pretty distinctly marked. First 
we observe, interwoven into the sacred representation, a certain ad- 
mixture of Pagan elements, and we find a growing increase of allusions 
to heathen characters, divinities and events. In a miracle play, ejg. 
of tho twelfth century, we have songs in celebration of Venus and of 
Love. Representations of a half-clerical half-secular character began 
to be observed, in which the burlesque element preponderated to such 
an extent as almost to render them caricatures of religious ceremonies. 
Such are, e.g. the election and celebration of Boy Bishops, the Feast 
of Apes, 1 the Feast of Fools. The dialogue also becomes more elabo- 
rate and free, the dramatic action assumes additional complexity. 
Laymen begin to take part as characters in the sacred dramas, pro^ 
bably also in their composition. And — a still more significant^ token 
of transition — the language of the old mysteries was being changed. 
At as early a date as the eleventh (perhaps the tenth) century 8 
we have a % mystery, that of the wise and foolish virgins, in which 
Latin, Provencal and French are simultaneously used. 8 It is obvious 
that the Theatre like other forms of culture was now gradually 
separating itself from the Church, it was starting on the course of 
freedom and independence which of right pertains to it. 4 Accord- 
ingly we find, as the next step in the transition, mysteries and 
nominally sacred dramas represented outside the church. The em- 
ployment of profane languages such as French or Italian also con- 
tinues to increase. In the twelfth century we have a mystery on the 
Resurrection which is entirely in French ; and another El mistero 

1 On this mystery, comp. Hone's Ancient Mysteries, p. 161 and Du Cange, Gloss., 
art. Kalendcc. The rubrical directions for its conclusion were that the priest 
instead of the usual ( Ite missa est. 1 should bray thrice, and the people instead 
of 'Deo Gratias 1 should thrice answer Huiham, Huiham, Huiham. See 
Bartoli, I Primi due Secoli, etc., p. 182, N. 4 : Hone, loc. cit., p. 165. 

1 Comp. Wright's Early Mysteries, Pref. p. xiii. 

• For this mystery see Wright's Early Mysteries, p. 55, and comp. Viollet le 
Due, Ancien Thiatre Francais, Intro, p. viL ; Prof. Bartoli, Storia, etc., p. 228, 
and I Primi due Secoli, p. 175, note 4. 

4 The Church began to forbid the participation of the clergy both in the 
representations in churches, and in the mummings at festivals as early as 
the beginning of the twelfth century. See some interesting remarks on this 
point in Wright's Early Mysteries, Pref. p. 12. 



56 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

de I08 Reyes Magos in Castilian. These were probably performed 
outside churches. Certainly in the next century, 1244, we have 
indisputable evidence of a mystery in a highly developed form, 
having for its subject the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, being 
performed in a meadow near Padua. We need not follow the course 
of dramatic development any further, inasmuch as in the following 
centuries we have abundant examples of a purely secular drama. 
Farces, moralities, burlesques were both written and acted by lay- 
men. Guilds and companies of players, sometimes clerical sometimes 
lay, were now organized. These contributed much to the artistic 
development of the drama, as well as to its enfranchisement from 
ecclesiastical domination. Some surprise has been evinced at the 
scarcity of examples of the secular drama before the fourteenth century, 
contrasted with their abundance in the fifteenth and sixteenth cen- 
turies. But the truth is, as M. Viollet le Due has remarked,' they 
probably existed but are now lost. Even the large number of Dra- 
matic pieces belonging to the fifteenth and succeeding centuries — 
now diligently collected and forming of themselves no inconsiderabe 
literature — are evidently less than a tithe of those then extant. 

The effect of these various dramatic representations in expressing 
and popularizing Free-thought during the century preceding the 
Renaissance is undeniable. Even while the Theatre was an appanage 
of theX3hurch, when the mysteries, moralities and miracle plays were 
both written and performed by the clergy, when their representation 
formed part of the most sacred offices of the Church, there was no 
small amount of freedom both of speech and thought in the perform- 
ances. Venerated saints, angels arid martyrs, nay, even Deity Him- 
self, were addressed in terms of familiarity bordering on irreverence. 
Naturally with the further development of the drama and the 
combined influences of Free-thought operating in other directions, 
this freedom became still more marked, and in some cases assumes 
a repulsive aspect. The removal of the miracle-plays outside the 
church walls, the increased part taken by laymen in their composi- 
tion and representation, served to intensify these tendencies until 
at the latter part of the Renaissance, and during the Protestant 
Reformation, the Theatre becomes almost the chief medium for the 
popular expression of Free-thought, and of determined hostility against 
the Romish Church. 

This influence it was enabled to achieve not only by its general 
free tone in discussing doctrines and persons commonly reputed 
sacred, but also by the educational and thought-provoking effect of 

1 Ancien Theatre Fran^ais, Intro. r. xii. 



General Causes. 57 

its dialogue. For the rude populace this subserved the same purpose 
as the scholastic contests of the Schools and Universities did for 
mediaeval students. It was a kind of popular dialectic or eristic 
much appreciated by the crowd. A stage controversy e.g. between 
God and Satan, between Vice and Virtue, between _soul and body 
and similar antagonistic entities was certain to evoke both interest 
and excitement ; 1 the preponderance of reason and argument on one 
side or the other was determined with much shrewdness ; and the 
victor and vanquished were awarded their meed of applause or 
disdain without reserve or partiality. The extent of controversial 
reasoning in the Reformation drama renders indeed many of its best 
products slow and monotonous, the evolution of the plot and develop- 
ment of the characters being frequently sacrificed to argumentative 
victory. Mr. Paley has remarked on the disproportionate amount 
of ratiocination which marks the speeches, soliloquies, etc. of the 
chief personages in a Greek drama, and accounts for the fact by the 
fondness of the Greek for reasoned discourse and dialectical combats. 
What was true of the Greek drama, as a national product, is true of 
the Reformation drama, as an outcome of new mental fermentation 
and spiritual life. Indeed we have this controversial literature in 
separate poems, Dialogues, and other productions of the>iind uncon- 
nected with the Theatre. 8 The effect of this twofold mode of Truth- 
presentation is clear. Questions for discussion were assumed to. be 
decided on their merits, after impartial estimate of conflicting sides, 
and with no regard to extraneous authority. The paramount im- 
portance of reason was thus conceded. Such a principle was dis- 
tinctly opposed to authoritative teaching, and to an ab- extra 
dictation, whether ecclesiastical or political. At first the dogmas of 
the Church were probably regarded as indisputable and beyond the 
scope of discussion, but this exemption we know was far from being 
conceded at the Renaissance. Nor were the doctrines set forth by 
Romanism so inherently pure, nor the characters of those who taught 
them so immaculate, as to justify such an exemption. Accordingly 
we find a free criticism of most of the dogmas of the Romish Church, 
especially when their direct object was to increase the wealth of the 
clergy. It would be easy to adduce many examples of this Free- 
thought of the Theatre. The ambition and greed of the Pope, and 
the immorality of the clergy, were of course favourite objects of stage 
invective. But the more speculative doctrines of Christianity were 
not always spared. Thus the fall of man, the doctrine of Special 

1 Professor Bartoli well remarks that this form of literature is common 
throughout the middle ages. See his note, I Primi due Secoli, etc., p. 173. 
* Comp. Poeme attributed to Walter Mapes, passim. 



58 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Providence and its application to answer to prayer. The ordinary 
theory of Divine Justice, the belief in Hell and Purgatory, were 
canvassed with unreserve, and sometimes with bitter scorn and 
mockery. Instances of this spirit will meet us when we come to 
consider Boccaccio's Decameron and Pulci's Morgante Maggiore. At 
present I will only quote one instance of free-enquiry opposing 
itself to the convictions of theologians. This is how Judas Iscariot 
e.g. reproaches God in an old Breton mystery : ' Why has God 
created me to be damned on His account? It is the law of the 
world that good and evil must dominate, according to their principle 
and essence, every created thing. Hence I cannot be permanently 
righteous in whatever state I am, if I am made of evil matter. God 
is then unrighteous. To us He is neither impartial, nor a true judge. 
Far from that, He is perfidious and cruel, in having made me of a 
matter destined to cause my fall, and to prevent my reconciliation 
with Him.' 1 Whatever may be thought of the conclusions enun- 
ciated in this and numberless similar passages found in the Drama 
of the Renaissance and the Reformation, we cannot shut our eyes 
to the fact that it is reasoning, the outcome of a critical and inde- 
pendent spirit brought to bear on theological subjects, an assertion 
of the right of Skepticism, in opposition to Dogma. 

THE SECULARIZATION OF LITERATURE. 

V. Revival of Classical Studies. 

But we have yet to consider a greater co-efficient in the Seculariza- 
tion of Literature than any of those already touched upon. I mean 
the gradual revival of Classical Literature itself. No idea relating 
to the middle ages is more common than that which assumes the 
utter extinction of Pagandom from about a.d. 500 until its revival at 
the Renaissance. The conception is perhaps favoured by the names 
given to the great movement that took place in Italy between the thir- 
teenth and fifteenth centuries. Such terms as ' revival/ ( Renaissance,' 
etc., are understood as if they implied a resurrection from death. 

1 Comp. Littre, ttwLes sur Us Barbara et le Moyen Age, p. 857, etc Similar 
free-thinking ratiocination occurs also in the Old Cornish miracle plays, e.g. 
in the play of * St. Meviasek, Apostle of Cambourne,' we find the following 
criticism of the doctrine of the Atonement : — 

( If God above was his father, I say, Meviasek, 
He could through His grace have saved rich and poor 
Without being dead. Of thy assertion shame is ! 
What need was there for God's son to be slain like a hart ? ' 



General Causes. 59 

This is at least a great exaggeration. The epoch no doubt is a 
revival, but rather from debility and helplessness than from absolute 
lifelessness. There is really no period of Mediaeval History in which 
traces of Pagan culture are not discernible. When, by the establish- 
ment of Christianity as the State Religion of the Roman Empire, 
Paganism was driven out of the towns, it found an appropriate shelter 
in the Pagi or country villages. Here relics of the older Pagan 
cultus remained until late in the fourth century ; nay, even in the 
fifth, Venus was worshipped in the sacred groves of Campania, 1 while 
the festivals of Saturn, Pan, and other mythological divinities con- 
tinued to be observed under slightly altered names which disguised 
but faintly their real origin. What is thus true of religious tradition 
and social usages is also to a less extent true of Latin Literature. 
This was a Testament of Antiquity of which Italy was the natural 
residuary legatee, but partly on account of the hostility of the Church, 
partly by means of political troubles and the disorganization thence 
arising, it was a legacy of which for some centuries she was not 
permitted to avail herself. No doubt there was throughout the 
middle ages a party in the Church which always regarded with furtive 
approbation the writings of Pagan Antiquity, but unfortunately it 
was by no means the dominant party. The leaders of Latin Chris- 
tianity, with unimportant exceptions, were enlisted on the side of in- 
tellectual obscurantism. An ancient Council, the Fourth of Carthage, 
forbad Bishops to read Pagan authors ; and Tertullian, Augustin and 
Jerome found worthy successors in the great leaders of monasticism, 
as Cascian and Benedict, and in such Popes as Gregory I. and Paul III., 
the former of whom prohibited the use of all heathen authors, while 
the latter stigmatized humanists as heretics. The general spirit of 
ecclesiastical tradition was thus opposed to Pagan culture ; and this 
prejudice was not greatly modified by the isolated teaching of such 
men as Boethius and Cassiodorus, who occupy a position midway be- 
tween heathen and Christian erudition. Besides, the direction 
which the dogmatic development of the Church had unfortunately 
taken was such as to necessitate a vehement opposition to Pagan 
culture. The reliance on speculative truths and subtle metaphysical 
distinctions was naturally opposed to the enlarged view, the stress 
on ratiocination, the robust common sense, which marks the best 
products of Greek and Roman Literature. The insistence on ortho- 
doxy, as an exclusive prerogative of the Church, vitiated all other 
conceivable or possible sources of Truth. The accredited dogma 
which was assumed to be supernaturally infallible, and was therefore 

1 Comp. Bartoli, Sloria, p. 88. 



Co The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

promulgated with a dictatorial authority which forbad not only 
criticism but even hesitancy of belief, could not take account of alien 
sources of enlightenment, nor even acknowledge their existence. To 
this exclusiveness, which is after all the normal product of Sacer- 
dotalism, must be added the Asceticism which forbad all relaxation 
and enjoyment, and stigmatized even intellectual pleasure as a deadly 
sin. No doubt the instincts of the Church, regarded from her own 
selfish and ambitious standpoint, were well adapted to subserve her 
interests. Enlightenment of whatever kind @ the enemy of priest- 
craft and superstition, and the spirit of heathen literature though «, 
far from being opposed to the Teaching of Christ, nay having much fn&< e * 
in common with that teaching, was certainly antipathetic to the 
evolution of mediaeval Romanism. 

But though the Church discountenanced and prohibited heathen 
learning, though it threw away, as an accursed thing, the thought, 
science, poetry, and literature of the great Power to whose position 
and prerogatives she had succeeded, she still retained the language 
of old Rome. The pupils educated in her schools in the arid gram- 
matical studies which formed the staple ingredient of monastic culture 
were at least endowed with the power of reading Virgil and Cicero. 
Even from the fifth to the eighth century — the dark ages of Italy — 
the use of the Latin tongue formed an element of continuity — a tie 
with the religion of the present and the literature of the past, which 
was not materially affected even by the invasions of the Lombards. 
After these barbarians had established themselves throughout Italy, 
Latin, though debased and corrupt, continued to be the literary 
language. Laws were enacted, studied and enforced in Latin. All 
business transactions were conducted in Latin. 1 Sermons were 
preached and liturgies read in Latin. Mysteries and miracle plays 
were celebrated in Latin. There was thus enough popular currency 
in the language to enable a studious layman, as well as the priest or 
monk who could command a Latin manuscript, to form some acquaint- 
ance with ancient literature. 

No doubt Italy was, at the time I am speaking of, far behind the 
level of France, Spain and England in the cultivation of classical 
and secular learning. She jsjifffired the penalty of having in her 
midst the ancient capital of the Western Empire. To cross the 
Alps, ravage the plains of North Italy, and sack Rome had become 
the favourite traditional policy of every powerful horde of Northern 
barbarians. Italy had no schools so celebrated as that of York, 2 nor so 

1 M ura tori. Aut. Ital. Di*8. y 48. Comp. Bartoli, i" Primi due Secoli, etc., p. 26. 
* Cf. Alcuin's well-known poetical List of Classical Authors in the Library 



General Causes. 61 

free and enlightened as those of Ireland, 1 nor so numerous and well 
conducted as the mona stic schools of Gaul. The smaller schools 
attached to parochial churches, of which we read in the sixth century, 3 
were no doubt put an end to by the Lombard Invasions. They shared 
the fare of the libraries burnt, churches violated and despoiled, and 
convents sacked which marked the track of the'barbarians. Passing 
over the few and unimportant scintillations of Intellectual Light with 
which Tiraboschi and others endeavour to relieve this sombre period 
of Italian History, we may say that it is impossible to assign any 
movement of classical learning which affects, though only indirectly, 
the Italian Renaissance before the educational Reform of Charlemagne 
in the ninth century. Even this episode — the most brilliant in the 
history of mediaeval Literature — had only a temporary existence 
in France, and was much more short-lived in Italy. The leading 
spirits of the movement also, Alcuin and Babanus Maurus, only 
professed to teach those sciences of antiquity which most directly 
subserved the interests of the Church. The former indeed forbad 
a disciple to teach his pupils the reading of heathen authors. 3 
The latter, though more liberal, adhered too closely to traditional 
methods and conceptions to permit his influence to be described 
as really enlightening. Besides which, the education imparted in 
even the best of the monastic schools was of a wretchedly narrow- 
minded description. Not even its warmest advocates would con- 
tend that it possessed any truly cultural significance. Intended 
primarily to mould the monastic intellect, its chief aim was to impart 
that semblance of instruction which while it satisfied was unable to 
nourish or promote the mental growth of its recipients. Instead of 
bidding the eager mind to march forward it assuaged its restlessness 
by adroitly contrived schemes of ' marking time.' There was, in other 
words, motion, but no progression. But whatever results this effort of 
Charlemagne had in Italy they were of a temporary character. The 
inroads of foreigners, after the final collapse of Charlemagne's power, 

of York, and see Mullinger's Schools of Charlemagne, p. 60, and Heeren, Gesch. 
d. class. LiUeratur im MiUelalter, Werke, iv. p. 182. 

1 Com p. Haureau, Singularity Historiques et Litteraires, Essay L ( Ecoles 
d'Irlande, pp. 1-86. 

* Tiraboschi, Storia, vol. iii. p. 47. 

3 * De peur,' says Guigueng * que cette lecture ne leur corrompit le coeur,' 
Hist. Litt. (Vltalie, i. p. 94. The best recent account of Alcuin and the curious 
admixture of monkish and literary elements in his character is that given by 
Mr. Mullinger, Schools of Charlemagne, chap. ii. To the credit side of Alcuin's 
intellectual formation must be placed the nationalism which refused to see 
in the Witch of Endor's apparition of Samuel anything more than the sub* 
jective illusion of Saul. 



62 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

still desolated Italy. In the North, the Hungarians, in the South the 
Saracens and Normans carried fire and sword through her towns and 
villages, though the latter also conveyed a germ of future Free- 
thought by the introduction of Arab culture and Provencal Poetry. 
Previous to the year 1000 there was, besides, another potent cause 
which retarded, or rather quenched for the time, the advance of clas- 
sical culture : I mean the general perturbation as to the end of all 
things being at hand. The general terror worked by this anticipa- 
tion operated now, as on former occasions in the history of Christianity, 
viz. in stifling all human interests, in paralysing all mental effort, 
and subjecting man as a bondslave to the cupidity and tyranny of 
the Church. Thus in the Literary history of Italy there occurs 
another dark patch, in the early part of the tenth century, hardly 
less intense than the dark ages of the fifth to the eighth century. 
But even at this period, and notwithstanding the depressed state of 
classical learning, we possess a few records to show that it was not 
extinct. Here and there amid the political troubles, the degrading 
superstition, the profound ignorance, might be found a solitary 
student who basked, as we before a coal fire, in the sunlight of other 
days. Here and there, were found monastic libraries which con- 
tained, besides ecclesiastical treatises, some of the best authors of 
Heathen antiquity; 1 though the latter are as yet in a considerable 
minority. 

In the eleventh century classical culture begins to be merged with 
the other literary confluents which combine to make up the general 
stream of the Renaissance. The fermentation now at work, Political, 
Religious, Social, Literary, is of too varied and complex a character 
to admit accurate definition. The Italian communes were beginning 
to combine and to assert their new-born political energy. Commerce 
and the Crusades were exerting the stimulation we have already 
ascribed to them. Schools and Universities come into existence. 
Arab Free-thought and Culture are being disseminated; and with 
other secular influences, stimulating and being stimulated by them, 
there is a decided quickening of men's interests in the products of 
Heathen Antiquity, an evident wish to understand and appropriate 
the thoughts of Ancient Philosophical systems. Foremost among 
classical authors who now arrested attention as thinkers, was Aris- 
totle, some of whose works, Latin translations from the Arabic, be- 
gan to be known and discussed both in France and Italy. At the 

1 See e.g. the Library Catalogue of the Monastery of Bobbio given by 
Muratori, Ant. Ital. y iii. pp. 818-825. Comp. Heeren. Op. cit. p. 198 note, and see 
Tiraboschi, Storia, iii. pp. 276-282. 



General Causes. 63 

commencement of the century a certain Vilgard, 1 master of the school 
at Ravenna, had the temerity to assert that all the dicta of the 
ancient Poets were true, and were to be accepted as articles of Faith, 
in preference to Christian mysteries. While at its termination we 
meet in Florence a sect of Epicureans who a few years later attained 
such power as to cause political troubles. Moreover, the Ghibellines, 
the leaders of the Italian communes, and in general the determined 
asserters of secular as opposed to Papal power, were frequently repre- 
sented as materialists and irreligious; and though the imputation was 
hardly true of the majority, there was undoubtedly a large minority 
of whom it held good. Into the general excitation, of which these 
are a few examples, Italy entered with alacrity. In times past it 
had always been celebrated for Free-thought, when Free-thought was 
possible. Among the adherents to the Arian and Pelagian heresies 
in the fourth century not a few were Italians. 2 It would seem that 
proximity to Rome, in mediaeval as in modern times, produced a dis- 
illusionising effect. The Italians, says Professor Bartoli, 3 were 
averse to Theological studies. All the great names of Italian Theo- 
logy, Lanfranc, Anselm, Peter Lombard, Bonaventura, Thomas 
Aquinas, made their mark and obtained their celebrity in foreign 
countries and universities. The chief studies in vogue in the Italian 
Universities of the twelfth and thirteenth century are Roman Law 
and Philosophy. 

Having thus brought down the stream of classical learning to the 
commencement of the Renaissance, when Dante and Petrarca meet us, 
I will next glance at another and final concurrent cause of Italian 
Free-thought : — 

THE SECULARIZATION OF LITERATURE. 

VI. Arab Culture and Philosophy. 

Into the earliest relations of Islamism and Christianity we need 
not enter. I have already noticed their mutual position as distinct 
dogmatic systems, and the; antagonism this was calculated to pro- 

1 Kenan, Averroes, p. 284. 

* Tiraboschi, Storia, vol. iii. p. 48. 

• Cf. Bartoli, J Primi due Stcoli, p. 201, who quotes Giesebrecht, ' Sacree 
discipline per omnia haec tempora, indoli atque ingenio nationis parum con- 
venerunt, exiguoque fructu sunt cultqe ' (pp. 24-25) ; in another passage where 
the same author compares Italians with Germans he says, ' Hi arm is, forensi- 
bns pergaudent negotiis; illi (Germans) summa cum animi delectatione in 
rebus sacris, in martyrum meritis, in fide Christiana propagata commorantur ' 
(pag. 28). \ 



64 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

voke. But whatever may be said of the bigotry displayed by 
Islamism in its earlier history, and occasionally afterwards, it is cer- 
tain that Mahomet himself with all his prophetic enthusiasm, was a 
tolerant man. 1 Undoubtedly he was so to Judaism and Christianity. 
There were indeed too many elements common to the three Semitic 
religions to permit a logical standpoint of antagonism for the youngest 
against the two elder. The most honoured names both in Judaism 
and Christianity were sacred to the Arabian prophet. There were 
also similarities of religious thought, opinion and sympathies — the 
common substratum of Semiticism — which he not only recognized, 
but of which he shrewdly availed himself in controversy with Jews 
and Christians. No doubt there are passages in the Koran which 
manifest an intense hatred of unbelievers ; but by these are intended 
idolaters and Polytheists, not varying phases of Monotheism. Hence, 
setting aside exceptions of cruelty and fanaticism, unhappily common 
to all dogmatic faiths, we have in the leaders of Mahometanism, as in 
the Prophet himself, examples of men who are eminent for enlighten- 
ment, liberality and toleration ; and the history of Islamism, taken as 
a whole, must be regarded as a powerful propaganda of Free-thought 
and liberal culture, which is all the more striking when contrasted 
with the barbarism by which it was surrounded. 

The reason of the superiority of the Arab over other Semitic races 
as a pioneer of enlightenment, science, and toleration seems to be 
their greater intellectual mobility, and their keener receptivity. These 
qualities enabled the Mahometan leaders to value and appropriate 
whatever learning, thought or science they found existing among the 
races whom they conquered, 2 while the same attributes enabled them 
to modify whatever articles in their own belief they discovered to be 
repugnant to the intellectual advance, the mental freedom, or real 
welfare of humanity. 3 Possessed of these qualities we need not feel 
surprised at the consequences of Arab thought coming into contact 
with the remnants of Greek criticism that survived in Syria, and at 
Alexandria, in the eighth century. Ancient philosophy, discarded by 
Christianity, and despised by the barbarism spreading over the South 
of Europe, seemed to find at once a new home at Damascus and Alex- 
andria, whence it was again to blaze forth and enlighten the countries 
of its birth. The Khalifs of Damascus first set the example of literary 
activity. They employed teachers, Christians many of them, to dis- 
close some of the wondrous treasures of Greek wisdom. Aided by 
munificent and enlightened patronage these men began translating 

1 Comp. Sedillot, Hist. Gen. des Arabes^ i. p. 84. 
3 Comp. Humboldt, Cosmos (Bonn), vol. ii. p. 583. 
* Comp. Sedillot, op. cit. pp. 196, 408 and passim. 



General Causes. 65 

the works of the chief Greek thinkers into Arabic. Commencing with 
the mathematicians and astronomers, they next proceeded to the 
philosophers. These translations were sometimes made from Syriac 
as well as from Greek ; and were not very correct representations of 
the originals ; but they served the purpose of quickening the tastes 
of the Arabs for mathematics and literary culture, and inciting them 
to a closer acquaintance with an erudition in many respects differing 
greatly from their own Semitic ideas. Precisely the same movement 
was taking place at Alexandria, where we have the commencement 
of the literary impulse which subsequently culminated at Bagdad. 1 
Thus, while the loaders of Christianity were occupied in trivial and 
endless disputes, while they were painfully elaborating jew heresies 
out of subtle and impalpable distinctions, while they anathematized 
and devoted to endless torture all non- Christians, especially the 
followers of the great Arabian heresiarch, the Khalifa of Damascus 
took Christians into their councils, employed them in their schools 
and sat at their feet as teachers of Science and Philosophy. Even 
more remarkable, if possible, is the enlightenment, toleration, the 
cultivation of arts, science and literature which distinguished the 
Khalifate of Bagdad under the Abassides. ' The passion/ says M. 
Sedillot, 2 speaking of this Khalifate, ' with which the Arabs surren- 
dered themselves to literary studies excels even that manifested by 
Europe at the Renaissance.' The best works in the Greek language, 
brought from Constantinople, were immediately translated. A school 
of interpreters was opened at Bagdad under the direction of a 
Nestorian doctor. A revenue of 15,000 dinars was devoted to a 
college in which 6,000 pupils of every rank received gratuitous 
instruction. Libraries were founded open to all the world ; and these 
were increased from time to time by princes, some of whom even took 
part in the public lectures of the professors. Mathematical learning 
attained a height never before known. Astronomy was enriched by 
important discoveries. Observatories were built and furnished with 
instruments the greatness of which appals the imagination. There 
were hospitals for the instruction of doctors, laboratories for chemical 
experiments, etc. And all this brilliancy of literary and scientific 
attainment, in the far East, is contemporary with Charlemagne, in 
other words when the whole of Christian Europe was submerged in 
a barbarism very insufficiently tempered by the Educational Reform 
which he initiated. No wonder that historians find the comparison of 
Charlemagne and Haroun al Raschid well adapted to illustrate the 
difference between the civilizations of the East and the West in the 

1 Sedillot, op. cit., i. p. 184. 
* Op. cit., i. p. 239. 
VOL. I. F 



66 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

ninth century. 1 The material products of the Arabs of Bagdad were 
uot less wonderful than their intellectual activity; and with these 
Italy early made acquaintance, as we have seen, by her commercial 
intercourse with Constantinople and the seaports of the Levant. 
Thus into the ports of Pisa and Genoa together with the bales of 
Eastern carpets, the spices and perfumes, the aromatic woods and 
other precious products of Bagdad, perhaps some mechanical rarity 
like the clock which Haroun al Raschid sent to Charlemagne, came 
the reports of die wondrous erudition, the novel sciences, the tolera- 
tion, the general enlightenment which distinguished this marvellous 
creation of the followers of the Arabian prophet. 

But it is to the Arab civilization in Spain that we must look for 
those influences of free-culture that directly affected the Italian 
Renaissance. For the space of three centuries (from the beginning 
of the eighth to that of the eleventh) the Peninsula was governed by 
tolerant and enlightened princes, who protected and advanced with 
all their power every branch of human knowledge. 8 Here also we 
meet with the same erudite industry, the same passionate zeal for 
letters and science, the same freedom and tolerance as characterized 
the Abassides of Bagdad. In the Spanish schools were taught 
Astronomy, Geography, Dialectic, Medicine,' Grammar, as well as 
the elements of Physics, Chemistry, and Natural History. Libraries 
were established in every large town, which were well filled with 
copies of Ancient Greek Authors and Alexandrian Philosophers. 
Mathematical Sciences — Algebra and Geometry — were cultivated with 
success. These branches of learning found their way by means of 
itinerant scholars into neighbouring countries. One of the earliest 
and most remarkable names which thus serves as a bond of connec- 
tion between Arab culture and Latin Christianity is the famous Ger- 
bert who afterwards became Pope under the name of Silvester II. 8 
He had studied under Arab teachers at Barcelona and Cordova. 
After his elevation to the Papacy he was accused of practising the 
black art. The comparative measure of enlightenment between Spain 
and Rome may be estimated by the circumstance that what in Spain 

1 E.g. Heeren, in his Fclgen der KreuzzttgefUr Europa, Werke, ii. p. 71. 

* Comp. Sedillot, op. cit., i. pp. 817-348, and Sismondi, De la Litt. du Midi, etc., 
chap. iii. 

3 On this remarkable man — probably the most learned that ever sat on the 
Papal throne — See Histoire Litteraire, voL vi., Haureau's Article in the Nouvelle 
Biog. General*, and compare Milman's Latin Christianity, vol. ii. p. 418. On 
the legends with which Roman fanaticism has invested his character see 
Bartoli, Storia, etc., p. 112, etc. Gregorovius in hks Roman History (iii. 617) justly 
remarks that Gerbert * shone in Borne like a solitary torch in a dark night. 1 



General Causes. 67 

was wisdom, learning and science, became in the capital of Christen- 
dom magic, necromancy, and dealings with the Evil one. 1 

To these more solid intellectual pursuits of the Spanish Arabs must 
be added their devotion to music, dancing, the composing and singing 
of songs, in a word, the gayer and more refining elements in their 
civilization, which the Provencal and chivalresque poetry afterwards 
disseminated throughout Italy and Europe. The arts imwrhich they 
manifest the least excellence are those of Sculpture and Painting, 
which were forbidden by the Koran; though, even in these their 
ingenious evasions of their founder's prohibitions are sufficient to 
indicate the ability they would have attained if their genius had 
been allowed free scope. Their power in this direction is further 
attested by their taste and skill in architecture and decorative paint- 
ing, the remains of which still excite the wonder and despair of % 
Europe. The general result of this culture and science on the intel- 
lectual development of modern Europe is a subject we need not enter 
upon. It has been so often and so ably treated that little is left to be 
added. 2 Even the barest summary of inventions, discoveries, and 
improvements effected by the Arabs in Poetry, Music, Astronomy, 
Chemistry, Architecture, Medicine, the Mechanical Arts, Natural 
History, Botany, etc., would occupy far too much time for our 
present purpose. They form a striking and lasting tribute to the % 
beneficent effects of free-culture and unimpeded enquiry. They also 
justify the employment of Rationalism, as against a slavish Bibliola- 
try. The literal observance of the text of the Koran would have 
made the civilization of Damascus, Bagdad and Cordova sheer im- 
possibilities. Nor were these learned pursuits and refined amuse- 
ments of the Spanish Arabs restricted to any one class. ' The taste 
for intellectual pleasures/ says Sedillot, 8 ' penetrated every stage of 
Society.' Nor again were Mussulmans regarded with more favour 
than Christians. The most complete toleration existed for every 
mode of religious belief ; while the highest offices in the State were 
open to men of every class without the least distinction. The 
Christians of Spain early appreciated the liberty which their own 
co-religionaries, when they had power to refuse it, thought it a 

1 The mediaeval legend of Theophilus — one of the many precursors of the 
Faust-Legend — is derived from this enlightened pope. And comp. Scheible's 
Kloster, ii. pp. 155-177. Gerbert like his brother Black Artist is said to have 
been accompanied by a familiar in the form of a large black dog. Comp. 
chapter on Agrippa, Evenings with the Skeptics, vol. II., p. 471. 

* Comp. e.g. Whewell's Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, vol. i. ; Hum- 
boldt's Cosmos, vol. ii. (Bonn's Trans.) ; Draper's Intellectual Development, etc. 

» Op. cit. i. 842. 



68 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

heinous crime to extend to the accursed followers of Mahomet. 
They soon learnt the Arabic language ; and the employment of this 
tongue became so general that a Christian Bishop, the celebrated 
John of Seville, translated the Bible into it for their use. 1 So also 
the Canons of the Church in Spain were written in Arabic. 2 In the 
ninth and tenth centuries, both the Spanish — i.e. the Romance stage 
of it— and the Arabic seem to have been spoken indifferently by the 
people ; so that Arab learning was imparted without even the neces- 
sity of knowing the Arabic language. Hardly less than the intel- 
lectual was the commercial activity of the Moors and Arabs. Their 
products and manufactures were known and valued throughout 
Europe, in the Levant, and on the coasts of Africa. Toledo was 
famous for its blades, Granada for its silks, Cordova for its harness 
and saddles, Cuenca for its woollens — the blue and green cloths which 
were known throughout Europe — and Valentia for its sugar and spices, 
not to mention the more general products of the country. Most of 
this commerce was in the hands of Jews and Moors who had their 
agents at the seaports of Italy, Africa, and the Levant, while traders 
on foot found their way across the Pyrenees to the South of France 
and the Plains of Lombardy. To this commercial intercourse 
must be attributed, I think, the extent to which Arab ideas and 
civilization became known in Italy. Notwithstanding sacerdotal 
exclusiveness, Bulls of Popes, and other embargoes of a similar kind, 
the Italian merchant could hardly help contrasting the superiority of 
the wares which came from Spain with those which his own country 
was capable of producing. He might have extended the contrast to 
the well-known probity of the Moorish compared, with the laxity of 
the Christian trader, who could always obtain absolution for com- 
mercial turpitude by means of the very gains he had thereby 
acquired ; or he might have compared, with like feelings of envy, the 
internal peace and prosperity enjoyed by the subjects of the Khalifs 
of Cordova with the perpetual strife occasioned by the ambition of 
the Popes of Rome. But besides the Free-thought thus furtively im- 
ported with commercial bales, bottles and parcels into Italy, there was 
a more direct traffic of the same forbidden commodity, both by the 
songs of the Provencals, which I have already considered, and by the 
return of youths who had resorted to the Spanish universities to com- 
plete their education. For, in common with France and England, 
Italy also sent some of her sons to Seville, Cordova, Barcelona in 
order to acquire the Philosophy and Science which were then obtain- 

1 Comp. Dr. Leclerc, Hist de la Midicine Arabe, vol. ii. p. 366, and for a List 
of John of Seville's Translations, etc., see the same work, p. 870, etc. 
* Sismondi, Litter, du Midi, chap. iii. 



General Causes. 69 

able in no other University towns in Europe. 1 These on their return 
reported the marvellous civilization, the mental freedom, the noble 
tolerance, which not even the rancour stirred in men's minds by the 
first Crusades could affect 2 — the general order, peace and prosperity 
of the ( felon Paynims. 1 In all probability there was an importation 
of some of the numerous translations which the professors at Cordova 
and elsewhere made from Greek Philosophers and Mathematicians, as 
well as their own original contributions to these and cognate subjects. 
Thus was Italy preparing herself, by a foretaste of Mahometan Free- 
thought and tolerance, for that manifestation of it which she was 
about to offer to Europe in her own Renaissance. The intercourse I 
am now considering, between the Islamism of Spain and the 
Romanism of Italy, has moreover another and a more portentous 
aspect. It seems clear that it resulted occasionally in the conversion 
of Christians to Mahometans. Such a process, suggested by the com- 
parative civilizations of the two countries, and facilitated by the 
lax interpretation of the Koran which is a distinguishing feature of 
all the higher stages of Mussulman culture, would have been both 
natural and pardonable. Indeed the apostasy which preferred the 
vicegerent of Mahomet to that of Christ might well be regarded as 
no true apostasy at all, but a transference of allegiance from a 
corrupt and perverted Christianity to a faith and conduct nearer its 
own primal spirit. The legends and mystery-plays of the middle 
ages are not unfrequently based upon the crime of apostasy — gene- 
rally to Mahometanism. These mostly take the form of a man selling 
himself to the devil by denying Jesus Christ, and being afterwards 
rescued from the consequences of his compact by the intercession of 
the Virgin. 1 Such legends did not want historical instances on which 
to establish themselves. Whenever a mediaeval thinker seemed in- 
doctrinated with a love of knowledge and mental freedom, the rare 
phenomenon was immediately ascribed to diabolical agency, and a 
secret conversion to Islamism. Legends of this kind surround the 
memory of the great Gerbert (Pope Silvester II.) ; and no accusation 
was more common in the mouth of his clerical calumniators than that 
Frederick Barbarossa had abjured Christianity and embraced the 

1 Sismondi, loc. cit. 

1 * Alors que les Croises entraient dans Jerusalem, lea portes de Toledo rlcem- 
ment conquise, s'ouvraient a Gerard de Cremone et a toute une legion de 
savants qui s'en allaient demander a Petranger les moyens d 'etude qu'ils ne 
pouvaient trouver dans leur patrie.' — Dr. Leclerc, Hist, de la Med. Arabe, i. p. 581. 

8 This is the subject of the mediaeval legend or miracle play of Theophilus, 
which goes back so far as the sixth century. Comp. its treatment by Buteboeuf , 
Le Miracle de Theophile, (Euv. Comp., Ed. Jubinal, ii. p. 79. 



jo The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

faith of Mahomet. These accusations of impiety received a new im- 
pulse in Italy from the propagation of that phase of Arab Philosophy 
which more than any other contributed to the growth of Italian Free- 
thought — I mean Averroism. 

Without enteriug at all minutely into the heterogeneous mass of 
doctrine with which the name of Averroes is identified, we may say, 
briefly, that its chief phases are derived from the Idealism of the 
Alexandrian School, grafted upon a half real, half supposititious 
foundation of Aristotle. This at once supplies us with the reasons 
of its popularity among the thinkers of the Renaissance, as well as of 
its gradual decadence in proportion to the decline of scholasticism. 
Its doctrines were associated with the name which of all ancient 
thinkers was held most in reverence. The title by which Averroes is 
known to Dante and Petrarca is 'the great Commentator upon/ it is 
always implied, ' the greater writer — The Philosopher par excellence.' 
During the eleventh and twelth centuries the reputation of Aristotle 
had reached its climax before the attention of the Church was drawn 
to the dangerous consequences of his teaching. The greater part of 
this period coincides with the literary activity and early fame of 
Averroes. In the rapid extension of Averroism which followed, this 
original connection with Aristotle must be taken into account ; for it 
was just this that first established him as a powerful influence among 
the thinkers of the Renaissance, though the commentator and disciple 
ultimately superseded the Master. But if Averroes thus owed much 
of his fame and consideration to the Stagirite, his own thought ten- 
dencies were also congenial to the Italian intellect. These were 
metaphysical and mystical to the very verge of Idealistic negation. 1 
. Matter, with him as with most other Arab thinkers, is eternal. Indeed 
in its metaphysical definition, as materia prima, it is copceived as 
identical with Deity. Creation is not an event, but an eternal process. 
God is the collective designation of all intellectual and spiritual forces. 
The individual intellect, in its coming forth into activity or, as an 
Hegelian would phrase it, in its gradual self recognition and assertion, 
is part of the universal mind. And this, in the case of the wise and good, 
is their ultimate destiny. 8 In a word, the outcome of Averroism is a 
** • peculiarly subtle and intricate Pantheism. * ' No doubt he claimed to 
~t-2r'gy b® an orthodox Mussulman, but it is quite evident that his scheme of 






.^-. x**^* * ^ or an a ^ e summary of Averroism, Comp. Munk's Melanges de Phil. Juiv* 
jp^* % < % / / et Arabe, p. 442 eta , and for a more extended exposition see Kenan's Averroes, 
f^Py PP- 88-162. 
J?' * This final self-annihilation of the Individual intellect being accomplished 

by Knowledge assimilated the teaching of Averroes to Buddhism and the 

doctrine of Nirvana. Cf. Munk, Melanges, pp. 448, 450. 



General Causes. 71 

Philosophy conflicts with the main Dogmas both of Islam and of 
Christianity. Like Erigena, he believed that Philosophy and Religion 
were one ; and he proposed to discover this standpoint in the Koran. 1 
He also pleaded the stress of the same authority on Truth as a reason 
for Free-thought and independent research. He further contrived by 
an ingenious elaboration of metaphysics to attain to the orthodox 
dogmas of Islamism, just as Hegel managed to extract certain affini- 
ties to the creed of Ecclesiastical Christianity from his Transcen- 
dentalism. But in the case of Averroes the attempt was unsuccessful. 
He was unable to deceive his co-religionaries. Not only was he re- 
garded as a suspected thinker, but as having brought to a climax the 
Free-thought of Islamism. He was in truth the last of a brilliant 
succession of thinkers to whom the Khalifate of Cordova had given 
birth. After Averroes- a reaction against Mahometan Free-thought 
set in, just as the Renaissance was followed by a similar antagonistic 
movement against the Free-thought of Christianity. Still more 
polemical was the attitude of Averroes to Christianity. His philo- 
sophy found no place for the doctrines of Creation,. Providence, 
Miracles, Revelation, hardly even for Deity, in its ordinarily received 
acceptation among Christians. Hence, to the Italians of the latter 
part of the twelfth and the whole of the thirteenth century, who 
probably for other reasons had become suspicious or impatient of the 
Dogmas of the Church, Averroism furnished a philosophical stand- 
point of indifference, or it might be even hostility, to the older creed. 
It also contributed by its stress on ratiocination, by the wide reach 
of its method, by its larger conception of the laws of the universe 
to stimulate intellectual independence and self-possession. Hence 
Averroism, apart from its characteristic conclusions, undoubtedly aided 
the cause of Free-thought.' We shall find indeed that Pantheism 
in alliance with Mysticism is a not unfrequent accompaniment of 
Skepticism, though rather as a goal than a starting point. It need 
not therefore surprise us to discover so much of the Italian Skepticism 
of the thirteenth century attributed to Averroistic influences, nor 
that Leo X. with all his liberal culture, his profound respect for 
Aristotle, his secret sympathy with Free-thought, should have thought 
it necessary to issue a Bull against the Averroists. But notwith- 
standing the suspicion of orthodox Mussulmans and the repressive 
measures of the Church, 8 Averroism continued to increase in Italy. 
Tiraboschi remarks on the enormous following the great Arab free- 
thinker contrived to obtain ; and attributes to his works much of the 



1 Com p. Munk, Melanges de Phil. Juive et Arabe, p. 453. 
* Comp. Ren an, Averroes^ pp. 225-255. 



72 Tlie Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

impiety and irreligion which marks the Renaissance. 1 In the 
fifteenth century the ' Great Commentary ' had succeeded in thrust- 
ing the paternal Text — Aristotle himself — from the seat of honour 
it had so long occupied, 2 and the chief University of Italy, that of 
Padua, became, for some century and a half, a school of Averroism. 

In concluding this sketch of the varied influences we have classified 
under the general heading 4 Secularization of Literature/ and which 
aided so powerfully to promote the Italian Renaissance, we must I 
think award the highest place to Arab culture ; especially with all its 
concomitants of Provencal Poetry, Averroistic Philosophy, and 
general Free-thought. No doubt in the fifteenth and sixteenth cen- 
turies these influences gave way, in point of importance, to those of 
Classical Literature and Philosophy. The very subtlety of Averroes, 
though congenial to the Italian mind, tended, by its excessive tenuity 
and metaphysical complexity, to induce an opposition in favour of the 
breadth, directness and simplicity of classicalism. 3 Its association 
with Aristotle, though at first an advantage, was a decided demerit 
when Aristotle himself, in common with the Scholasticism of which 
he had become an integral part, was threatened with subversion. 
But the essential spirit of Averroism — its Pantheistic Idealism — 
though under different forms and employing other terminologies, con- 
tinued to live in succeeding Italian Philosophy. It distinguishes 
Zarabella, Cremonini, Cesalpinus, Cardan, and other well-known 
free-thinkers ; and we shall have to note its presence in Pomponazzi, 
Giordano Bruno, and Vanini. 

REACTION OF ECCLESIASTICAL DOGMA. 

Besides the agencies already enumerated which operated directly 
in promoting the Renaissance, there remains to be considered a whole 
class of indirect influences that contributed to the same event. I mean 
the various Reactionary effects of the dogmatic system of the Church. 

Not only is the primary axiom of our subject true, viz.: — that ex- 
cessive repression of thought induces a rebound, but it is equally cer- 
tain that, cceteris paribus, the violence of the rebound will be in the 
ratio of that of the repression. Applied to thought, and systems of 
dogma, this law is the same as that formulated by Sextos Empeirikos, 

1 iStoria, etc., vol. v. pp. 277, 280. 

* Renan, Op. cit., p. 816. 

3 All the influences which combined to overthrow Averroism are derived 
from a more extended knowledge of Greek Antiquity. M. Renan discrimin- 
ates three varieties of them. 1. Peripatetic Hellenism. 2. Platonism. 3. 
Humanism. See his Averroes, pp. 888-400. 



C v 



General Causes. 73 

viz. That the Skepticism which assails Dogma will be proportionate, 
in extent and intensity, to the Dogma assailed. Considered from this 
point of view, we might say that Romanism was in a great measure 
the active but unwilling, cause of the Italian Renaissance, as it was of 
the German Reformation. 

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy features of the doctrinal 
development of mediaeval Christianity was the stupendous growth ^ 
of its metaphysical doctrines, and the excessive elaboration of 
Dialectics on which this huge superstructure was based. The simple 
creed which Jesus Christ taught had become an abstruse and elabor- 
ate philosophy, which propounded the most transcendental of ab- 
stractions as though they were an important element of everyday 
existence, which attempted to divide an'd discriminate between im- 
palpable entities when any but a nominal division was inconceivable ; 
and which in all cases invested the final result of their metaphysical 
subtlety with the sacred character and imposing name of 'orthodoxy.' 
The controversies to which this method gave birth, and which filled 
the mediaeval Church with their clamour, are of the kind we might 
have anticipated from their origin. They are ludicrously trivial and 
puerile, either in their object or their treatment — not uncommonly in 
both. They attempt to dogmatize on matters not only beyond the 
ken, but far beyond the practical interests of humanity. They 
decide on the nature and attributes of Deity, of Angels and Spirits, 
and of a future life, with the same undoubting persuasion of their 
infallibility as the Encyclopaedists displayed in secular knowledge. 
The result of this metaphysical development, at every stage of its 
growth, was a clear gain for the Church, and an equally undoubted 
loss of freedom to humanity. The more difficult, self-contradictory, 
irrational any given dogma, the greater authority its unreserved 
acceptation assigned to the Church, and the greater the contempt of 
human reason that acceptation involved. And, regarding the Church 
as a moral teacher, the more any dogma conflicted with human 
instincts and ethical convictions, the greater the authority its re- 
ception conceded to the Church ; and the more abject and submissive^ 
became the attitude of the human conscience to its behests. Tertul- 
lian's maxim, ' Credo quia impossible,' represents the ordinary stand- 
point of mediaeval Christianity, both as respects speculation and 
ethical teaching, and sufficiently, attests its slavish character. 

Against this incubus of metaphysical dictation — against the trans- 
cendentalism of the schools — the men of the Renaissance protested. 
They did not, for the most part, reason against the super-subtle dogmas 
to which their consent was demanded. Their forte did not lie in 
dialectics; and their natural aptitudes were toor untheological to let 



74 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

them care for disquisitions on ecclesiastical matters. But they dis- 
cerned with an intuitive glance those aspects of an over-strained belief 
which could have nothing in common with ordinary human interests, 
or which lent themselves most readily to burlesque and caricature. 
They appreciated e.g. at its full worth the claims of an infallibility 
in divine things which was so often united to imbecility in secular 
matters. Difficult dogmas they sometimes treated ironically, as if 
transparently obvious; or else, admitting their incomprehensibility, 
they derided them by ludicrous attempts at explanation ; or finally 
they burlesqued them in an openly shameless and profane manner. 
The Morgante Maggiore of Pulci is full of these free treatments of 
theological dogma ; to some of which I shall have presently to call 
your attention. However naturally our feelings of repugnance might 
be excited by such treatment, we must remember that we have never 
been bound so helplessly to the car of theological metaphysics as 
these men had been, and never therefore experienced the uncontrol- 
able revulsion of feeling which attended their self-wrought deliver- 
ance. The real craving which was signified in this unruly manner, 
which underlay this bitter contempt for scholastic metaphysics, was 
a desire for simplicity, for rationality, for a conception of the world 
and of Nature as real present actualities, for beliefs and teachings 
more in accordance with human wants. The need was part of that 
general yearning for a return to Nature, to life, to humanity, to 
common sense and common feeling, which permeates and justifies 
the Renaissance. Not that the humanism of that movement, nor the 
Protestant Reformation succeeded in extirpating abstruse meta- 
physics from the region of genuine Christianity — simple devotion to 
God and duty to man — but they commenced that appreciation of sim- 
plicity in religions creeds which has grown in direct proportion with 
the progress of culture, knowledge, and religious perspicacity down 
to the present day. 

REACTION AGAINST ASCETICISM. 

Besides this reaction against scholasticism, and abstruse meta- 
physics there was another and stronger recoil that opposed itself to 
mediaeval asceticism. The extent to which gloomy and sombre views 
of human existence, and everything thereunto appertaining, prevailed 
in the middle ages I need not dwell upon, as it is one of their chief 
characteristics. Not only was Theology affected by this Pessimistic 
fanaticism, but it pervaded Social life, Literature, the Fine Arts, and 
even Architecture. God was regarded as a cruel Tyrant whose 
wrath was to be deprecated, and favour secured, by self-inflicted 
torments of every description. Man was the veriest slave of the 



General Causes. 75 

Divine caprice, whose whole duty consisted in attaining by the 
only mode of voluntary macerations, penances and tortures, everlast- 
ing beatitude in the world to come. For this world, it was but a 
gigantic prison house, or an enormous cloistral vestibule of Eternity. 
As for men and women, they were either to be wholly avoided as 
sources of temptation and pleasure, or else were regarded as fellow 
ascetics and travellers on the selfsame thorny and bitter road to 
heaven. Setting aside the facts that the passion for asceticism has 
its roots in the religious instincts, especially when these are evolved 
naturally or by education of a certain narrow type — and that it 
possesses affinities in the (often misunderstood) teachings of Christ 
— there were certain operative causes at work which serve to 
explain its enormous influence in the middle ages. (1) The Church- 
itself had subordinated morality and human duty to Theology. In- 
stead of placing man, as an object of service, on the level of God 
Himself, as Christ did, it established an impassable gulf between 
the religious and the ethical duty. The sole attention of the Chris- 
tian being directed to the task of saving his soul, was necessarily 
concentrated on himself. Hence all his efforts acquired a peculiarly 
insidious flavour of selfishness. Asceticism was only a form of mis- 
chievous self-indulgence. Prayers and penances were bribes to secure 
the favour of God. Macerations and tortures were preparatives, and 
provocatives, calculated to effect an entrance into, and to enhance 
the pleasures of heaven. Thus the Church, by her false teaching, 
placed a direct premium on the most fatal and benumbing kind of 
selfishness — religious selfishness. Even allowing a certain modicum 
of conscientiousness to pertain to her ascetic doctrine, it is certain that 
in her excessive advocacy of it she herself was impelled by selfish 
motives. With her characteristic astuteness she perceived that the 
submissive spirit engendered by perpetual and unlimited self-sacrifice, 
the intellectual stolidity induced by a monotonous round of religious 
duties — the reputation of superior sanctity that attached to asceticism, 
were all materials she could employ for her own ascendancy and 
ambition. Accordingly she favoured by all means in her power that 
Monastic Conception of Christianity and existence against which the 
Renaissance and the Reformation, and since their time the reason 
and common-sense of civilized humanity, have so vehemently protested. 
But though the Romish Church was thus guilty of this, as of every 
other, perversion of Primitive Christianity, there were other circum- 
stances in mediaeval Italy which seemed to set a seal on her teaching. 
First was the repeated and profound conviction of the approaching 
end of the world. As a preparation for this event what was so 
effective as a cloistral life of Prayer and Penance. Hence Feudal 



7 6 The Skeptics of tJie Italian Renaissance. 

barons and high-born ladies gave not only themselves but, what was 
of more importance, their wealth, into the hands of the Church ; and 
both the spiritual and territorial power of Rome were immeasurably 
increased by every Eschatological Panic that invaded Christendom. 
It is not wonderful that the Church in the persons of superstitious 
Pontiffs like Gregory I. undertook to foretell these profitable contin- 
gencies. In a superstitious and unenquiring age her power was too 
firmly based to be affected by the non-fulfilment of her vaticinations, 
and if she failed to secure the immediate enjoyment of Heaven for her 
votaries, the contretemps was largely compensated by a greater 
acquisition of Earth for herself. Moreover in Italy, both the general 
asceticism of mediaeval Christianity, and the fear of an impending 
Final judgment, had their gloom intensified by political troubles. 
When towns, convents, private houses, churches were ravaged by 
one horde of Barbarians after another, — when uncertainty and insecuri ty 
infested the ordinary concerns of life, — when ignorance and supersti- 
tion were elevated to cardinal virtues, and man was delivered over a 
helpless prey to Sacerdotalism, the conditions of existence were hardly 
of such a character as to warrant a cheerful optimistic theory of Life. 
The result of this ascetic culture, or rather mis-culture, was the dif- 
fusion of a narrow spirit of Pietism, obscurantism, and bigotry which 
opposed itself to all knowledge and enlightenment. Pagan learn- 
ing was forbidden as a sin. Mental cultivation was tabooed as a 
frivolous and utterly needless attainment. Relaxation, whether 
mental or physical, was stigmatised as unholy. The enjoyment of 
Nature — the refining influences of the Arts, as Music, Poetry, and 
Painting all were anathematised as irreligious. Such were the 
boasted " ages of Faith," when the culminating perfection of Chris- 
tianity consisted in a dull, superstitious, unenquiring stolidity. 

The Renaissance justifies its name of New Birth by its emergence 
from the womb of this religious fanaticism. In every direction it 
heralded a revival" of free activity and unrestricted enquiry. 
Mediaeval obscuranticism, notwithstanding its cloke of religion, was 
recognized in its true colours by the newer thinkers. Guido 
Cavalcanti, e.g. compared the older ages of superstition to a church- 
yard — the veritable abode of death and corruption. Petrarca, from 
the scholar's standpoint, inveighs against the formalism and ignorance 
of preceding Christianity; while Giordano Bruno in a well-known 
, sonnet brands the typical religionism of Rome with the name of 
Asinity. Led by thinkers such as these, the Renaissance introduced 
a revival into every domain of human activity. In Poetry, Music, 
Painting, Architecture, as well as in Literature and Philosophy, there 
was a gradual abandonment of old forms, of antiquated ideas, methods 



General Causes. 77 

and standards. Instead of regarding the earth as a gloomy prison r 
men began to appreciate the beauties of Nature, to take delight 
in the changes of the seasons, in the pleasures of rural life, to speak 
with due poetic rapture of the beauty of flowers, and the melody of 
birds, to describe in exquisite word-painting the manifold charms of 
natural scenery. Petrarca's description of the lovely Vale of 
Vaucluse, and the inimitable sketches — like cabinet pictures — of the 
wooded valleys and rivers round Certaldo, with which Boccaccio 
embellishes his Decameron, are illustrations of this new appreciation 
of Nature. Instead of confining their studies to devotional and ascetic 
works men began to manifest a taste for Humane Literature and the 
fine Arts. Instead of expending their physical strength on penitential 
discipline and self-torture, they listened to the dictates of Nature, and 
adopted the opposite regime of music, feasting and dancing. 

Nor was this resuscitation of a new world of joy and beauty ex- 
clusively a product of reaction. In part it was also spontaneous, one 
effect among the countless others of the general excitation and fer- 
ment of the period. An additional impulse, from an extraneous 
source, was moreover imparted to it by the revival of Classical Litera- 
ture. Men were not long in discovering the harmony that existed 
between humanistic studies and their newly-awakened impulses. 
Horace, Martial, Ovid, Tibullus were nearer to their sympathies than 
the monastic teaching to which their fathers listened. It was out 
of this deep feeling for Naturalism, together with the Classical ism that 
made Pagan Art and Literature the single standard of Perfection for 
the Renaissance, that Italian Art took its rise. The Paintings of 
Masaccio, Da Vinci, RafFael and del Sarto, the Sculpture of Donatello, 
Sangallo and Michael Angelo, and the Architecture of Bramante, 
Michael Angelo and Brunelleschi are as much a reaction against 
Asceticism, and a product of Free-thought as the Decameron or the 
Mor garde Maggiore. 

The breach between Asceticism and Humanism which began out- 
side the Church, and in defiance of her teaching soon extended itself to 
the Papacy, and generated that antagonism between her teaching and 
her practice which assumed so portentous an aspect in the fourteenth 
and fifteenth centuries. However highly the Popes of the Renaissance 
esteemed Asceticism as the ally of superstition and sacerdotalism, 
they were in private life as much admirers of Humanism as the Free- 
thinking leaders of the movement. And as their boast of infallibility 
might be alleged to be more conclusively demonstrated by their con- 
duct than by their official utterances, the reaction against Asceticism 
had so far a right to claim the sanction of the power that contributed 
so much to its origin. 



78 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

REACTION AGAINST SACERDOTALISM. 

Among its other resuscitations and revivals the Renaissance gave 
new birth to Humanity. The results of Sacerdotalism are to 
obliterate and distort man, his nature, his feelings, his wants and 
his sympathies ; the aim of the Italian Revival, in this aspect har- 
monizing with the spirit of Christ, was to restore to him those rights 
and that consideration which are inherently his due. Hence arose 
gradually a higher estimate of conduct and practice, as distinct from 
speculation and belief; and a tendency to assess the merit of the latter 
by the worth of the former. This I need hardly remind you is the 
very opposite method to that pursued by Roman Christianity. Acting 
on the erroneous principle that ethical conduct is determined pri- 
marily by intellectual propositions or metaphysical formula, she 
insisted in the first instance on correct belief, or what she declared 
to be such. Orthodoxy being thus established as the chief virtue of 
Christians, soon arrogated to herself the claim of being their only 
virtue. From the point of view of sacerdotalism and unscrupulous as- 
cendancy Romanism was no doubt right. Whatever her lack of 
ethical perception there was no deficiency in the selfish astuteness 
which has ever been the ruling principle of her action. Every auto- 
cratic despotism, secular as well as sacred, instinctively multiplies laws, 
restrictions and prohibitions in order not only to the assertion of its 
prerogative, but to make the obedience exacted from its subjects more 
complete and submissive. But, in the interests of freedom and 
Christian morality, nothing could well have been more disastrous. 
Its inevitable outcome was to establish that divorce between Ethics 
and religion which is still the plague-spot of Roman Catholicism. How 
distinctly this feature is marked on the Church of the Renaissance 
it is needless to point out. Protestant Church historians have not 
been backward in expatiating on a theme which #so completely justi- 
fies their theological standpoint. Nor was the incongruous spectacle 
of a religion indirectly inculcating immorality lost on the free- 
thinkers of the Renaissance. The facilities the Church conceded to 
crime and moral laxity, by means of her doctrines and the examples 
of her Popes and clergy, forms the one favourite and inexhaustible 
topio of all the Italian Novelists of the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries. Nor was the ruthless severity she meted out to trifling 
dogmatic aberrations suffered to pass unnoticed. We shall have 
to touch this subject again when we come to Boccaccio's Decameron. 
Meanwhile we have an interesting illustration of the Church's 
different method of regarding dogmatic and ethical obligations, re- 
spectively, in the promises of Innocent HI. to those who took part 



General Causes. 79 

in the crusade against the Albigeois. The savage followers of 
Simon de Montfort, for the ruthless massacre of peaceable and help- 
less citizens, were rewarded with a remission of all their sins from 
the hour of their Baptism up to that time. They*were also absolved 
from the payment of their debts, even though they had sworn to 
pay them. It is almost impossible to believe that such a flagrant 
mockery of the first principles of Christianity and Natural Religion 
was ever perpetrated. But the instance proves — whenever the claims 
of orthodoxy and humanity seem to come in conflict— rather the rule 
than the exception in the history of the Papacy. The well known 
sale of indulgences to build the church of St. Peter, which ha pp il y 
brought about the Reformation, is another example of the subser- 
viency of moral to sacerdotal requirements. If this was the con- 
duct of leading Roman hierarchs — of Popes, Bishops and Councils, 
who blasphemously claimed to be guided by the Holy Ghost — the 
knowledge of the people could scarce be of a higher quality ; nor was 
their behaviour likely to be influenced by more unselfish considera- 
tions. The story told by Poggio in his Facetice 1 of the brigand who 
in his confession passed over many murders and deeds of violence, and 
dwelt with the deepest remorse and penitential unction on the sin of 
having inadvertently swallowed a few drops of milk during Lent, is 
one example, out of many, both of the popular recognition of the prin- 
ciples by which the Papacy was dominated, and of the satire and 
invective employed to attack it. 

It is due to the men of the Renaissance to say that without any 
profound reverence for Religion as a speculative creed, they fully 
recognized the mischievous character of this teaching. If Chris- 
tianity had ceased to dominate and ameliorate human conduct, of 
what earthly use was it? If the salt had lost its savour wherewith 
could it be salted ? They saw that Romanism had not only failed in 
the ethical part of its mission, but had become itself a central agency 
and propagator of Qvery species of immorality. Regarding the matter 
ironically, they might, like Abraham the Jew in Boccaccio's novels, 
have considered the prosperity of Rome, notwithstanding its tur- 
pitude, as a mark of special Divine Protection; but looking at it 
earnestly they could not help admitting the failure of Roman 
Christianity at the precise point where failure is most disastrous. 
Judging the creed by its results, all arguments derived from its purity, 
antiquity, apostolicity, or other supposed sanctions were worse than 
useless. What authoritative intellectual proposition could by any 
possibility justify inhumanity ? What relation could exist between 

1 Edition Liseux., vol. i. p. 114. 



80 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

purity of Faith and impurity of Life that was not subversive of 
both ? or what Dogma, or dogmatic system could claim to over-ride 
the natural rights, feelings and duties of man ? We cannot feel sur- 
prised that the Creed which sheltered such abuses should have been 
assailed, that the Free-thought of the Renaissance should have at- 
tacked the spurious Christianity of Rome. We are apt to blame the 
licence of speculation and action on the part of the leading thinkers 
of the Renaissance, but the fault is in reality that of the Church. 
Professing to join in indissoluble links both creed and conduct, she 
had for her selfish purposes relaxed the claims of the latter and more 
important moiety ; and the men of the Renaissance could hardly have 
done less than free themselves also from the bonds of the former. 
No doubt other causes were in existence which contributed to a 
similar result, e.g. the prevailing conception of liberty, derived from 
political struggles, and an exaggerated persuasion of the claims of 
Nature (though this was also as we have seen a reaction against 
Ecclesiasticism) but the primary cause of the Decadence of Dogmatic 
belief, and the Anti-christianity of the Renaissance, is to be found 
in the Church's own inversion of the principles of Christ, the sub- 
ordination of Ethical to Intellectual rectitude, and the gradual 
elimination of the less important of the two co-efficients, which was 
the unavoidable outcome of that position. Besides, even setting aside 
divergent standpoints, the men of the Renaissance only followed, in 
their licentious lives, the examples set before them by their clerical 
teachers ; and they did not add to their other immoralities the master 
vice of hypocrisy. 

Nor were these thinkers without numerous examples of moral 
rectitude outside the bounds of dogmatic Christianity, and, so far, of 
the independence of ethical practice in respect of speculative belief. 
Larger acquaintance with classical antiquity disclosed the noble roll 
of names of virtuous heathens such as e.g. Sokrates, Plato, Aristotle, 
Aristides, and countless others whose lives would have adorned any 
religion. Islam ism too, notwithstanding the opprobrium Christi- 
anity continually poured upon it, abounded in examples of men, both 
rulers and subjects, whose lives were models of rectitude and purity. 
The justice, benignity and tolerance of Saladin passed into a proverb 
at a time when the lives of Popes and Cardinals had become a scan- 
dalous byword through the length and breadth of Christendom. How 
much the same recoil against excessive speculation, to the prejudice of 
ethical duty, contributed to the German Reformation, as well as to 
various ineffectual attempts within the Church itself, we need not 
now inquire; the general subject belongs to the domain of Church 
History. I will only observe that the same inclination to regard 



General Causes. 81 

Belief as superior to Practice, to over-estimate the influence of specu- 
lative notions on human action, and to despise other motive principles 
which help to determine the conduct of men, still prevails in Roman 
Catholicism ; and, by means of that Church, has become an hcereditas 
damnosa more or less disseminated throughout the religious commu- 
nities of Europe, even those that claim the appellation of Pro- 
testant. But we must not pass over one notable result of this 
severance of morality from religion on the part of the Church, i.e. 
it was attended by a revived interest in all social and ethical 
questions. Christianity, having abjured for her own selfish purposes, 
the humanitarianism which formed her true starting-point, the 
mischief was immediately rectified by the social conscience of Euro- 
pean Society. There is indeed in human history, as in the consti- 
tution of the individual man, a principle of compensation by means 
of which the functions of an atrophied or diseased organ may be 
discharged by another ; and few things are more striking in the philo- 
sophical contemplation of the Renaissance, than the renewed attention 
paid to moral questions, and the crop of ethical terms with concep- 
tions unrelated to religion, which seemed to spring up on every side. 
The phenomenon is like that which we find in the History of Greece, 
when the popular notions of the Olympian deities, and their 
position as the moral dictators of humanity, having been refuted by 
the Eleatics and Sophists, an immediate investigation into Ethical 
questions was started by Sokrates and his school. No doubt this 
curiosity on the part of the Renaissance thinkers formed a portion of 
the general spirit of inquiry which distinguished it, and which inves- 
tigated every subject matter of human interest or knowledge. But 
the stress on Ethical questions was especially marked, as if they 
were anxious to restore the regulative principles of human morality 
which the Church had bartered away for sordid gain. As might 
have been anticipated, one feature of this Ethical . activity is the 
variety of moral terms and their significations to which it gave birth, 
though they are all assumed to share a restraining and beneficial 
influence. Thus we have virtue, honour, fidelity, prudhommie, and 
other moral qualities, instead of the usual "Cardinal" and Theological 
virtues insisted on ; while, instead of the sanctions of religion, appeal 
is made to honour, fame, glory, fortune, patriotism, and other more or 
less Pagan influences. As an illustration of the diverse senses in 
which ethical terms were accepted by the thinkers of the Renais- 
sance, we may take the word virtue. This term, used by classical 
writers in the sense of manly excellence, and by the Church as the 
epitome of all morality, is employed to signify any human merit on 
which the writer lays stress, or which seems especially needed by the 
vol. i. o 



82 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

circumstances of the time. Macchiavelli employs the term as a 
synonym for that combination of astuteness and power — that centaur 
conjunction of lion and fox — which he so greatly reverenced. With 
Niccolo Niccoli — the Sokrates or Florence who used to stop young 
men in the streets and exhort them to virtue — the term signified the 
study of Classical Literature. Pandolfini, again, defines the term as 
1 all gaiety and grace.' Where an aesthetic conception of it seems 
implied the same author adds that ' it proceeds from a necessary law 
of our nature, not from the command of any superior authority. 71 
Ouicciardini, with his Stoic philosophy, uses the word in its strictly 
ethical meaning ; saying that together with Intellectual advantages it 
constitutes the summum bonumof humanity, 2 while Stephen Guazzo, 
in his ' Dialoghi Piacevole,' makes it include all theological as well 
as moral excellencies, enumerating among its effects the undertaking 
of long pilgrimages by land and sea ! 3 Similarly the word ' honour ' 
receives a variety of meanings, though generally it is used as at 
present as a kind of social lay principle of restraint in cases where 
religious principles are either inappropriate or distrusted. As we 
shall again have to notice, in the case of Gharron and others, the substi- 
tution of secular or at least un theological principles, as moral incentives 
and deterrents, for the effete pfrecepts and sanctions of the Church, 
I need not now pursue this subject further. Enough will have been 
said to show the working of Free-thought in the ethical conceptions 
of the Renaissance ; and to note how this stress on moral questions 
was caused by the perversion of the mainsprings of human conduct on 
the part of Papal Christianity. 

REACTION AGAINST DOGMA. 

But this perversion was far from being the only one of which the 
Church was guilty. As part of the reaction we are now considering 
against its creed as well as its practice, we must point out the justifi- 
cation it derived from the perversion of dogma. The development 
of Christianity from its few rudimentary elements in the teaching of 

1 Villari, Macchiavelli, p. 195. 

* Ouicciardini, Op. Ined., vol. x. p. 108. 

8 P. 102. The same writer, though an orthodox Romanist, is full of the 
enthusiasm of morality which distinguishes all the earnest thinkers of the 
Renaissance. This is the way e.g. in which he addresses Virtue. " O virtu 
immaoulata, O virtu santa, O virtu cui non si pu6 dare altro maggior titolo 
che di virtuosa, qual mente sia giamai che & pieno ti capisca, qual lingua che 
con dignita t'essalti? qual Homero, qual Marone, qual Tullio, o quel Demos- 
thene che secondo i tuoi grandi meriti con finissimo inchiostroti lodi, ti canti, 
ti celebri, t' innalzi et ti coroni? ' etc., etc.— Dialoghi, p. 103. 



General Causes. 83 

Christ, we have more than once noticed. Here it is important to 
mark that this monstrous superstructure was a growth in certain 
given directions. Like some kinds of geological strata, it reveals, on 
examination, certain well-marked lines of cleavage which denote the 
manner in which it was originally formed. An investigation of these 
( planes of stratification ' is essential for our purpose, because it is 
along them, as in so many directions of least resistance, that incisive 
criticism and free- thought are found to run. So that, regarding the 
Renaissance as a disruption of the older fabric of Catholic Theology, 
we shall find that the actual fractures followed the course marked out 
for them by the Free-thought of the period. The evolution of Roman 
Christianity then took place on the following main lines : — 

1. In the direction of Inscrutability and Supernaturalism. 

2. „ of excessive Christology. 

3. „ of materialism. 

4. „ of spiritual ascendancy and material advantage. 

1. Every Revelation, in the usual sense of the word, must include 
elements of a supernatural kind. In an universe constituted like our 
own and with human faculties of such spiritual and imaginative reach 
as we possess, a religion divested of supernaturalism would be incon- 
gruous. Even the primary article of all religions — belief in God — is 
itself encompassed with mystery. Yet there is scarce anything more 
striking in Christ's own teaching than the little stress He places 
on the merely thaumaturgic and mysterious elements of His mission. 
On every attempt to enhance the natural marvels of His life and works 
He repeatedly throws cold water. As the Son of man, He insists on His 
humanity, and for the most part keeps the consciousness of His -divinity 
in the background. But the Christian Church started with a directly 
opposite tendency. From the first manifestation of excessive zeal on 
the part of Christ's immediate followers — who were ready to magnify 
His ordinary acts into miracles and to discern mysteries in his sim- 
plest utterances— down to the Council of Trent, the course of Christian 
Theology has been in the direction of supernaturalism. Allowing 
such a tendency to be in harmony with some of the instincts of human 
nature, and to be common to every religion that possesses a history, 
its excess is undoubtedly at variance with other human rights of not 
less importance, and is opposed to the advance of mature civilization 
and enlightenment. No law of human progress is more satisfactorily 
ascertained than that which binds it, in the relation of cause and 
effect, to the diminution of the Supernatural and the simplification of 
the Mysterious. I am far from saying that these elements can ever 
be eliminated from human knowledge and belief. In some respects 



84 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

indeed they are perpetually increasing, but we can so far limit their 
scope as to prevent their interference with freedom of thought, or the 
legitimate advance of human knowledge. A tendency therefore to 
super-naturalize needlessly and obtrusively must be accepted as an 
infallible token of sacerdotalism, and ipso facto of religious deterior- 
ation. To point out in detail how this tendency grew in the Church, 
what circumstances were in its favour, its pernicious effect in render- 
ing man the abject slave of superstition, would be in reality to write 
the whole of Church history. It is enough to remark that the common 
aim of all ecclesiastical authorities was to generate that passive ac- 
quiescence in unlimited dogma which was tantamount to the abne- 
gation of all thought and reason. Councils e.g. claiming the guidance 
of the Holy Ghost so elaborated and subtilized the more speculative 
aspects of Christianity, and affirmed their decisions so imperiously, 
that it must have seemed to an impartial thinker as if the sole 
mission of Christianity was to formulate a series of metaphysical 
enigmas and insist on their unconditional acceptance on the part of 
humanity. The more incredulous, incomprehensible and self-contra- 
dictory any dogma, the greater its chance of adoption by the Church. 
Faith, in the sense of unenquiring receptivity, being regarded as the 
main virtue of Christians, its value and merit were enhanced in direct 
proportion to the inconceivability of its object. Hence every new 
dogma, as it received the authentication of Pope or Council, became 
further removed from the sphere of human ideas and interests. Every 
new definition, refining upon abstractions and distinctions which had 
already attained an extreme point of tenuity, became the nucleus of 
fresh mysteries and inscrutabilities, and thereby an additional incubus 
on the over-weighted human reason. Christian Theology in mediaeval 
times was doubtless sustained, in her stress on excessive supernatural- 
ism, by the fact that secular knowledge also laboured under a similar 
burden, as we have already noticed. But the appeal to extreme super- 
naturalism is more mischievous in Theology than in Science, for the 
very reason that its principle is inherent in the former, whereas in 
the latter supernatural theories are accidental and are certain to be 
qualified sooner or later by other natural tests and sanctions to 
which all science must defer. 

Of excessive supernaturalism the inevitable outcome is gross super- 
stition, in other words intellectual thraldom of the most debasing and 
pernicious kind. Granting the existence of theological inscrutabilities, 
they must at least be real, not fictitious. Like the ultimate truths 
of Philosophy and Science they must be attained by the independent 
action of the intellect operating with freedom upon them, not enforced 
ab extra and on purely a priori grounds. No hierophant or ecclesi- 



General Causes. 85 

astical despot has a right to demand deference to an inexplicable 
mystery before the grounds and extent of the mysteriousness have 
been carefully scrutinized and determined. History swarms with 
examples of the mischief which invariably attends the passive recep- 
tion of marvels and authoritative dicta, from whatever source emanat- 
ing. And this mischief is greater in Theology on account of the 
sacred inviolable character pertaining to the very notion of the super- 
natural. Resistance to its behests immediately assumes the portentous 
aspect of * fighting against God.' Few religious thinkers, in any time, 
possess sufficient critical power, combined with intellectual indepen- 
dence, to discriminate between the possible supernatural germ, and the 
undoubted human agency which arrogates to itself the power of 
diffusing and imparting it. The latter must always be a matter of 
criticism to many who are content to accept the former as a general 
principle. The channels to which the belief of the middle ages 
ascribed the function of communicating supernatural powers were 
many. Dreams, lots, astrological influences, magical rites, ecclesiastical 
offices were all credited with miraculous powers, and most of them 
were openly or secretly wielded by the Church. Some of the popes 
even were supposed to possess magical and necromantic powers.. The 
result of this excessive supernaturalism was ani abjeot superstition, 
which although dignified by the euphonious title of ' Faith/ was pro- 
ductive of many unmitigated evils. The idea, in short, had become an 
intolerable yoke on the feelings, thoughts and desires of Christendom, 
repressing every movement of free intellectual activity, paralysing 
every action of human life, destroying every generous impulse, viti- 
ating every source of innocent enjoyment, transforming Deity into a 
capricious and sullen tyrant, and changing Nature into a veritable 
Inferno whose forces were supposed to be wielded by beings equally 
inscrutable and malignant. 

Against this exaggerated supernaturalism, the Free-thought of the 
Renaissance was a justifiable and sorely-needed recoil. With the 
emancipation it effected from religious, there was a progressive liber- 
ation from secular, superstition, as far as one was independent of the 
other. No doubt the process was very gradual. All the leaders of 
the Renaissance are more or less believers in supernatural agencies. 
In many cases men who had thrown off every vestige of deference 
to the Church and the priest yet trembled before the wizard, the 
astrologer, or the necromancer. Nor need we feel surprise at the 
transference to Nature of marvellous powers hitherto shared largely 
by the Church. To the child-like intellect of mediaeval times, Nature 
was an unexplored temple of mystery, her real marvels and her more 
ordinary processes were alike contemplated through a veil of mingled 



86 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

awe and wonderment, but she possessed over the Church the advan- 
tage of laying herself open to investigation and experiment, and of 
not relying exclusively on the ipse dixiU of Popes and Councils. 1 The 
reaction against the supernatural ism of the Church was certain, in 
time, to diminish the marvellous aspects of Nature ; especially when 
truer conceptions of her irreversible laws began to gain ground. If 
thinking men began their career of skepticism by distrusting exorcism, 
the miraculous powers of relics, the genuineness of winking Madonnas 
and the other paraphernalia of sacerdotalism, they could hardly fail 
to apply the same wholesome doubt to dreams, comets, astrological 
signs, and magical rites. There was thus a progressive antagonism 
against the supernatural, which taking its rise in the Church, extended 
itself to every province of human knowledge and feeling that groaued 
under the intolerable weight of a similar incubus. We must admit 
that this reaction in the Renaissance became itself extravagant. Be- 
cause the Church had overstrained the principle of the supernatural, 
* it was rashly concluded that it had no real existence. Because relics, 
' charms, miraculous powers were found deceptive, the very foundations 
of Christianity and all Religion, were called in question. But for 
this abuse the Church itself is primarily responsible. The excessive 
naturalism of Renaissance Free-thought is a legitimate effect of the 
extravagant supernaturalism of Christianity that preceded and in- 
duced it. 

2. Another main line of dogmatic development which provoked a 
reaction in the Renaissance, is what I have taken leave to call the 
exaggerated Christology of the Fathers and the Councils of the Church, 
I mean the ever-increasing tendency to confine the work of Christ, 
together with 'the principles and results of his teaching, to their most 
narrow and partial significance, instead of including the larger aspects 
and interests suggested by the whole universe, or entire humanity. 
A particular revelation of authoritative truth must have, in respect 
of time and place, a historical and local basis ; but the very claim to 
universality implied in the words ' truth,' * authority,' will* always 
tend to merge its actual origin in a wider conception of its real object 
and destiny. The Romish Church on the whole not only failed to 
grasp this unsectarian aspect of Christianity, but on the contrary 
directed all its efforts to the task of still further limiting the specu- 
lation and privileges of the Church. What was historical and tempo- 
rary in the origin of Christianity she did her utmost still further to 
circumscribe. The Jewish exclusiveness against which Christianity 
was a protest, had again found a place in the perverted development of 

1 This aspect of Nature is frequently insisted on by Giordano Bruno. 



General Causes. 87 

the latter religion ; and Papal Rome was the worthy successor of the 
Jerusalem of the Pharisees. A striking instance of this unchristian 
sectarianism is found in the stress on the false and mischievous 
maxim, ' Extra ecclesiam nulla salus,' than which no greater libel has 
ever been uttered against the Eternal, or the Providential government 
of the universe. Another instance is the gradual substitution of the 
worship of Christ and the Virgin for that of God the Father, in direct 
opposition both to the letter and spirit of Christ's own teaching. No 
doubt the larger intellects among the schoolmen were, as we have 
seen, able to oppose this limited view of Christianity. Men like 
Scotus Erigena and Aquinas were not likely to merge the conception 
of the universe, the sums total of space and time, into the narrow 
bounds of a few historical events. But intellects like theirs, capable 
of taking a philosophical view of Christianity were rare, and did not 
exercise a great influence on the main body of Christian teachers. 
This enlarged conception of Christian truth gives us the real sig- 
nificance of the Pantheism to which so many of the powerful minds 
among the schoolmen were really inclined. They were compelled, in 
order to make the limits of Christianity correspond with the larger 
bounds of the universe in space and time to infinitize, to contemplate 
the historical fabric of Christianity in Spinozistic terminology ' sub 
specie cBternitatis. 1 In this respect the metaphysical tendencies of 
Renaissance Free-thinkers, — men like Pomponazzi, Bruno and Vanini 
— are akin to the efforts and aspirations of the noblest intellects 
among the schoolmen. Though operating from dissimilar standpoints, 
and with varying ideas as to the scope of their attempts, both take 
a broad view of the real character and destiny of Christianity. Both 
endeavour to refine its materialism and spiritualize its literalism, 
both seek to universalize its partial teachings, and, to rationalize 
its extreme dogmas. So that the pantheistic tendencies which dis- 
tinguish the metaphysics of the Renaissance, and which I regard as 
a reaction against Roman sectarianism, found a point of support and 
so far of justification among leading thinkers of the Church itself. 

3. But the Renaissance was also a reaction against another deteriora- 
tion of Christianity. I mean the evolution of its dogma in the direction 
of materialism. In this case again there was a distinct conflict be- 
tween the original germ and its outgrowth. Christianity in its pri- 
mary form was an appeal to the religious consciousness, the spiritual 
perceptions of mankind. Its Deity and its worship were alike 
spiritual. But the Church unhappily started on the opposite path 
of anthropomorphism and materialism. This was especially the case 
in her presentation of popular theology ; for the metaphysical training 
of her ablest schoolmen sufficed to preserve them from gross and pue- 



88 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

rile conceptions of transcendental truths. In mediaeval times thitf 
development of Christian dogma, in the direction of extravagance of 
conception and coarseness of expression, assumes a portentous and re- 
pulsive aspect. Partly, no doubt, this must be ascribed to the rude 
manners of the time. Theology had become brutalized by association 
with men of brutal passions and ideas, and by having for its teachers 
a clergy in no respect above the vulgar crowd. Mainly, however, it 
was only the climax of the dogmatic growth which the Church itself 
had initiated. Councils, Fathers and Popes, not content with promul- 
gating speculative doctrines and forcing them on Christians, had vied 
with each other in excessive definition, extravagant elaboration, and 
grotesque illustrations of Christian truth. What was spiritual they 
materialized, what was symbolical they interpreted as real, what was 
Divine they humanized, and what was human they brutalized. It 
could scarcely be expected but that the crowd of laymen, ill-educated 
and superstitious, would endeavour to emulate their ecclesiastical 
superiors. Accordingly we have, in the centuries preceding the Re- 
naissance, ideas of Christianity, the objects of its worship, its rites 
and its dogmas, such as would well befit the most savage fetish 
worshippers that ever lived ; and which go far to justify the scornful 
unbelief of the Renaissance. It would be difficult to name a province 
of Roman Christianity that was not vitiated by animalism and 
materialism. All its religious rites were surrounded with sensuous 
accessories, as if its declared object had been to trail supersensual 
beings and truths in the filth of human frailty and corruption. All 
its dogmas were materialized, in many cases to a repulsive and obscene 
degree. The Divine personality of Deity was so limited and humanized 
that there was absolutely no scope left for His relations to the uni- 
verse. The doctrine of the Trinity was interpreted as a rank and 
unmitigated Tritheism; and when the worship of the Virgin and 
saints and martyrs was added, Romanism became, what it has since 
remained, an exaggerated Polytheism. The dogma of the Incarnation 
especially suffered from the crude animalism of its interpreters. It 
was investigated, discussed, and explained with such sensuous par- 
ticularity and revolting detail 1 that its spiritual significance was 
utterly lost. The Christian sacraments were transformed into 
charms ; and their symbolical elements were converted into material 
agents operating by material methods. They were thus placed on an 
equality with magical rites ; and the Christian priest became a kind 
of ecclesiastical juggler or wizard. All persons and objects sub- 

1 Comp. on this subject Hone's Ancient Mysteries, and the passages collected 
by Bartoli, I JPrimi due Secole, p. 206. 



General Causes. 89 

mitted to priestly consecration were assumed to undergo a change 
in their material constituents resembling that which the loadstone 
effects in a piece of steel. The climax of this tendency was reached 
in the doctrine of transubstantiation. On no dogma of the Church 
was the wit and raillery of Renaissance Free-thinkers expended more 
readily than on this. They recognised the extravagance of sacer- 
dotal pretension underlying it, and were not backward in reductio 
ad ab8urdum applications of it. Nor was this gross carnality limited 
to this life. The world to come was conceived from a similarly 
sensuous standpoint. The doctrine of the Resurrection, e.g. was 
asserted and explained in a repulsively hyper-physical sense. The 
glories of heaven, the pains of purgatory and hell, were bodily and 
fleshly in the greatest conceivable degree. In each case material 
beings were supposed to be acted upon by material and physical 
agencies. Dante's Inferno, with its incongruous mixture of physical 
elements and spiritual qualities, represents that point of development 
when the grosser conceptions of mediaeval times as to the world be- 
yond the grave were assuming a less extravagant form. He is thus 
a leader of the Renaissance, in its reaction against the materialism of 
the Church. Not that the thinkers in this movement were in every 
instance defenders of a more spiritual conception of Christian doc- 
trine, or that they cared very much for any form of religion. But 
they were keen-sighted enough to detect the incongruity of impalp- 
able abstractions represented in terms of tangible sensuous existences, 
and the inherent absurdity of spiritual agencies operating by material 
means. They refused to yield that absolute unbelief in the evidence 
of their senses which an alleged change of essence in a given sub- 
stance, accompanied by a self-evident similarity of attributes, de- 
manded. Perhaps they were inclined to lay too much stress on the 
dictum, that the non-apparent and non-existent must be judged by the 
same test. But it cannot be doubted that the general direction of their 
skepticism, and their supreme contempt for the sacerdotal jugglery 
which had so long deluded Christendom, were both abundantly justified. 
Besides this opposition to theological materialism, grounded upon 
reason and common sense, there was, in the case of some of the fore- 
most among Renaissance thinkers, a philosophical source whence 
proceeded a similar antagonism. The tendency to Pantheism, which 
marks so strongly the Free-thought of the period, was a recoil against 
the materialistic, as it was against the sectarian, conception of 
mediaeval Christianity. Men like Cardinal de Cusa and Giordano 
Bruno demanded a freer range for their religious imagination, a more 
spiritual direction for their aspirations, than were supplied by the 
materialism of Rome. The souls of these Idealists, filled with the 



90 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

immensity of the creation, revolted from the popular representation 
of Deity as a grey-headed old man seated in a chair with a globe in 
his hand. The only conception of the Incarnation of which they could 
approve was the metaphysical one of St. John's Gospel, with perhaps 
an additional stage in the direction of transcendentalism. For the 
coarse carnality of such dogmas as transubstantiation, the immacu- 
late conception, and other figments of a similar kind, they entertained 
a well-grounded horror. If the idealism of such thinkers tended 
occasionally, to annihilate historical Christianity, it certainly saved 
them from the still greater degradation .of abject materialism and fetish 
worship. Their heresy, if so it must be termed, was at least the pro- 
duct of thought and reason, and not the outcome of brutish stolidity. 
Their error, even if it could be proved, enjoyed the sanction of 
philosophy, while the opposition of spirit to flesh and letter was in 
accordance with the highest principles of Christianity. 

4. But the perversions of Christian dogma already considered, i.e. 
in the direction of sectarianism and materialism, were not those which 
were first suspected and assailed by the Free-thinkers of the Re- 
naissance. The corruption of Roman Christianity first approved it- 
self to the popular mind by the astute adaptation of its dogmas to 
purposes of spiritual aggrandisement and material advantage. While 
the truths and duties of primitive Christianity were of so simple 
a character as almost to dispense with a sacerdotal caste, all the 
energies of Romanism were directed to the inculcation of belief and 
duties which would make such a caste absolutely indispensable. The 
Church had thus a direct motive in increasing the number and en- 
hancing the inscrutability of her dogmas. Their inconceivability 
gave her teaching an esoteric flavour, and increased the importance 
of the clergy. Doctrines, like sacred relics — sharing in many cases 
an equal authenticity, were carefully enclosed in caskets, and kept, 
so to speak, under clerical lock and key. They were intended not to 
be handled and criticized, but surveyed reverently from a distance, and 
worshipped. Their depositories, no matter of what material, might 
perhaps be kissed, but even these were not to be touched by profane 
fingers. Nor was it only in speculative belief that the intervention 
of the priest was indispensable; it was not less so in the practical 
concerns of ordinary life. In mediaeval times, as in Catholic 
countries now, hardly an action could be performed without priestly 
intermediation. It was not merely the religionizing every secular 
act, the consecration of human life, that was aimed at, though 
this might have been the ostensible pretence put forward to justify 
such interference; but the complete effaceraent of the Christian 
individuality — the entire surrender of all thought and volition into 



General Causes. 91 

clerical domination. With the reaction against this religious thral- 
dom men began to observe how uniformly all the dogmas of Papal 
Christianity tended in the same direction of ascendency and profit. 
Not a dogma or a religious rite pertained to the Church which 
she had not directly or indirectly diverted into a method of in- 
creasing her power or filling her coffers. Men readily suspect 
good offices or beliefs which redound to the personal advantage 
of those who confer or maintain them. There is no inherent con- 
nexion between speculative verities and material silver and gold. 
To be acceptable, truth must not be entirely divested of dis- 
interestedness. But such unselfish truths were rare in mediaeval 
Romanism. On the other hand, all the blessings of Christianity were 
retailed like huckster's wares. Divine grace, pardon and love — the 
permanent and indefeasible attributes of Deity — were objects of sor- 
did traffic. Nor was the sale of such spiritual commodities limited 
to this life. The blessings of the future world — immunity from hell 
and purgatory — formed one of the most lucrative sources of Papal 
income. One effect of this conversion into articles of barter of all 
dogmatic beliefs was to increase in the minds of intelligent laymen 
that feeling of indifference for their speculative import which was 
first engendered by sacerdotal pretension and exclusiveness. But the 
suspicion awakened by the mercantile character of Church dogmas 
extended itself in time to their philosophical and religious significance. 
The two dogmas most questioned by the Italian Renaissance and the 
Protestant Reformation were Immortality 1 and the Indulgences. In 
both cases the controversy was originated by the excessive greed of 
Rome. Men^ began to investigate the nature and reality of that 
spiritual happiness of futurity which could enly be attained by a 
lavish expenditure of present and terrestrial advantages, just as 
Luther set on foot the Reformation by questioning the value of 
heavenly pardons which might be secured for a little earthly silver. 
I do not wish to credit the zeal of Renaissance thinkers against 
the various perversions of Roman Christianity with uniformly pure 
motives. Their object, it must be admitted, was almost entirely de- 
structive. They made no pretence of supplying, as Luther tried to 
do, by ajmrerfaith, truths which had become arrant falsities through 
the sectarianism, the materialism and the selfishness of the Church. 
Some of them, probably confounding the perverted development of 
Christianity with its pure source, set their faces altogether against 
it, and embraced Epicureanism or some other form of ancient thought 

1 Comp. on this point Burckhardt, Cultur d. Renaissance Germ. ed. } vol. ii. 
p. 812. 



92 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

which best commended itself to their intellect. But they discerned, 
as clearly as if they had adopted a religious standpoint, the innumer- 
able mischiefs, political and intellectual as well as social and religious, 
of which the Great Babylon was the centre. Although professedly 
irreligious, they were not so far lost to a sense of ethical rectitude 
and spiritual fitness as not to perceive the radical unsuitability of a 
creed based upon selfishness and slavery, and sustained by ignorance 
and obscurantism, to be the sole directress of all human speculation 
and conduct. Pure negation, for the time being, was a preferable 
anchorage to a faith whose disastrous influences were so positive 
and unmistakable. 

That this general recoil against Romish teaching should have 
spared the clergy was not to be expected. Indeed in point of time and 
of virulence of polemic the attack on ecclesiastics both preceded and 
exceeded that which was directed against their dogmas. Nor is this 
surprising. Doctrines are necessarily theories, or if alleged certainties 
are mostly abstractions, but men who administer or are influenced 
by them are concrete realities. They embody in a kind of incarna- 
tion their influences. Hence the merits and defects of a creed are 
more readily assessed, at least to popular comprehension, by its human 
products and ministers than by any other method ; and attacks on 
the clergy thus form the chief starting-point of all the Free-thought 
of the middle ages. How general, and unhappily how well founded 
this animosity was, our investigations have already told us. This 
formed the subject of Goliard invective. Troubadours and Trou- 
veres dealt with the same topic, Conteurs and Fabulists pursued 
the same theme. When the theatre became secularized it was a 
staple object of representation. The immunities of the clergy as 
a privileged class were no longer of any avail. Popular common 
sense, careless of subtle and theocratic distinctions between the man 
and the priest, inferred the character of the creed from that of its 
teachers. The wide separation of clergy and laity was a figment 
that could have deceived only the most stolidly ignorant, and it is 
one which virtually expired with the dawn of the Renaissance. The 
assumed sources of clerical superiority were then freely questioned, 
and their real nature and extent no less unreservedly canvassed. Of 
learning they had ceased even in the thirteenth century to be exclusive 
patrons. The study of classical authors, scholastic divinity, Arab 
and Romance literature had become the common property of all the 
forward thinkers of the period ; and in most of these subjects the 
Romish priesthood was left far behind by the laity. The dissemina- 
tion of learning by the Italian universities and schools served still 
more to equalize the intellectual positions of the two orders. If the 



General Causes. 93 

clergy could thus arrogate no superiority in respect of attainment, 
they could certainly claim none in respect of moral purity or rectitude 
of conduct The shocking depravity of priests, monks and friars 
forms the chief subject of all the Anti-Romanist literature of the 
time. Their sole remaining prerogative — the special sacredness of 
their office — was under the circumstances not likely to command 
much reverence. If the tonsure, e.g. guaranteed no peculiar wisdom 
or sanctity — if the assumption of sacred vows was frequently followed 
by unusual turpitude — the mysterious graces assumed to be con- 
ferred in either case might fairly be questioned. Foggio Bracciolini 
satirically remarked that in the act of the tonsure priests ' parted 
with not only their hair, but with their virtue and their conscience.' 
As to the title of Saint, or the conception of holiness regarded as the 
accompaniment of sacred functions, the feeling of the time might be 
stated in Casti's lines : — 

1 Lo chiamar Santo : allor di Santo il nome 
Fu annesso di persona e di mestiere, 
Non di costume e di virtu, siccome 
Foscia a talun il Don diessi, e il Messere 
Fer esser Santo uopo era sol le chiome 
Cinte di mitra, o di tiara avere ; 
Onde Vescovi, Fapi e somiglianti 
volessero o no, tutti eran Santi.' 

In this respect of anti-sacerdotalism, the Renaissance, like every 
other great revolutionary movement, was largely leavened by ideas 
not only of * liberty/ but of * fraternity and equality. 7 The long-con- 
tinued distinction between clergy and laymen, and the rites by which 
it was effected, were equally treated with disdain by the advanced 
thinkers of the period. Just as Fetrarla poured his sarcasm on the 
University degree which translated the blockhead into a philosopher, 
so Foggio treats the ordination of sacred persons with similar con- 
tumely. ' Hence the clergy/ he says * springing like mushrooms in 
an hour are rapidly advanced to the highest dignities. Thus it very 
frequently happens that you are obliged to venerate as a God a man 
whom you have been accustomed to despise as a mean, abject, ignoble 
and ill-bred character. By one word of the pontiff, the ignorant 
become, in the estimation of the vulgar, learned; the stupid, wise; the 
uninstructed, accomplished — though at the same time the real char- 
acter of the men is precisely the same as it was before. 7 * 

The same idea of essential equality between priests and people soon 

1 La Papesse, Ed. Liseux, p. 62, 

1 Comp. Shepherd's Life of Poggio Bracciolini, p. 286. 



94 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

found its way into the popular sentiment. You will not need my 
reminding you how fully the early Reformation literature, in Ger- 
many and England, took cognizance of a principle which had already 
been insisted on by the Literati and secular Free-thinkers of France 
and Italy. Here e.g. are some lines from a Goliard poem, maintaining 
that there will be no difference between clergy and laity in the day 
of judgment : — 

1 Cum perventum fuerit ad examen veri 
Ante thronum stabimus judicis severi 
Non erit distinctio laici vel cleri 
Nulla nos exceptio poterit tueri.' 

And in still stronger terms : — 

4 Judicabit judices judex generalis 
Nihil ibi proderit dignitas regalis 
Sed feetorem sentiet pcenee gehennalis 
Sive sit episcopus, sive cardinalis.' ' 

But it was not only the equality between the clergy and laity that 
was insisted on by the Humanists. They turned the tables on their 
clerical opponents and openly accused them of being the pests of Italy, 
the chief causes of the manifold disorganizations political and re- 
ligious from which that unhappy land suffered. Nor was this only 
the opinion of men like Rabelais and Boccaccio, who made the clergy 
the butt of their wit and raillery, but it was the opinion of austere 
and un sensational writers like Guicciardini, Macchiavelli and Poggio 
Bracciolini. Occasionally this anti-clerical animus assumed an ex- 
treme form, as if it were directed against the office itself rather than 
unworthy occupants of it. But as a rule the clergy were not back- 
ward in affording opportunities and ample justifications for the satire 
and invective of their foes. l3> obtain some idea both of the virulence 
of the anti-clerical feeling which was common more or less to all the 
Free-thinkers of the time, as well as of the justification that actually 
existed for such a feeling, you might read, inter alia, Bracciolini's 
Dialogues, especially that ' on hypocrisy.' 2 No doubt all the clergy 
were not intended to be included in this general condemnation. 
There were conspicuous instances of Bishops, Cardinals and even 
Popes sympathizing, and so far as they might, actually co-operating 
in the advance of humanism. Unluckily, however, these exceptions 
were rare— far too rare to modify the position of antagonism which 
Free-thought had rightly taken up against the clerical order. The 
mass of the clergy were justly regarded as fanatical obscurantists, 

1 Poems attributed to Walter Mapes, p. 58. 

1 See Ed. Brown Fasciculus Rerum Expetend. el Fugiend., vol. ii. p. 571. 



General Causes. 95 

whose whole energies were bent on the perpetuation of the benighted 
ignorance, the cruel bigotry and dark superstition from which the 
Renaissance was, at least for a time, an auspicious deliverance. 

I have thus endeavoured at some, though I hope not excessive, 
length to marshal the causes direct and indirect which contributed 
to the Free-thought of the Renaissance. Even our partial survey has 
ascertained these to be of various kinds — political, religious, com- 
mercial and literary. I am far from suggesting either that all those 
we have considered are of equal importance, or that there may not 
have been other important coefficients of which we have taken no 
account. The Renaissance, we must remember, is a vast, complex, 
many-sided movement, operating in different ways through the length 
and breadth of Italy, and assuming, during the two or three centuries 
of its short-lived existence, a varied and motley aspect. In North, 
South and Middle Italy, only taking these larger divisions, the con- 
ditions, political, religious and literary, differed so much that the 
phenomena necessarily assumed, in each particular instance, a peculiar 
character. Our task has been like the mapping of a large watershed 
and indicating the various affluents and tributaries which flow into 
the main stream. In doing this over an extensive, difficult and moun- 
tainous track, it is not impossible that a survey like ours may have 
been sometimes erroneous — that we have attached e.g. too much im- 
portance to one tributary, too little to another — that in the multiplicity 
of confluents we have sometimes mistaken the course of some minor 
rivulet — that we have not been able, in every instance, to trace the 
spring welling out of the mountain side through all its devious 
wanderings to its final junction with the main river. Still I think 
the chief currents of the common movement have been stated cor- 
rectly. It only remains to take some note of the prominent characters 
formed by this movement and who contributed materially to its 
extension ; to watch the action of Free-thought, not so much as 
influencing societies as moulding great men. Having surveyed the 
noble field of the Renaissance, we complete our task by estimating 
its noblest products ; and, as in duty bound, we begin at our next 
meeting with : Dante. 



CHAPTER n. 

GENERAL CAUSES AND LEADERS. 

Although neither as poet nor as thinker can Dante claim 
a foremost position among the agencies that contributed to 
the Renaissance, regarded as a movement of Free-thought, no summary 
of that movement, however slight, could be considered complete which 
took no account of the manifold and powerful influences exercised by 
the Divina Commcedia in the fourteenth century. The outline of 
Dante's painful history is so well known that it need not occupy our 
time. Its main facts are impressed in deeply graven characters on 
the pages of his great work. Hardly less clearly does the work bring 
before us the many-sided aspects and forces of the Renaissance. It 
is a kind of historical picture, or rather an enormous magic mirror, 
which, under the fictitious reflection of the affairs, institutions and 
personages of the unseen world, presents a complete and lively tableau 
of the actual men and events pertaining to the Italy of the twelfth 
and thirteenth centuries. In its pages we have chronicled the feuds 
of Emperors and Popes; the struggles of sects and parties, political, 
municipal and ecclesiastical ; the conflicts of institutions, mediaeval 
and modern ; the rivalries of cities ; the religious crusades and com- 
mercial enterprises of which Italy was then the European centre ; 
the conflicting mental tendencies and teachings of the dark ages on 
the one hand, and the Italian New-Birth on the other. The canvas 
is instinct with life and movement. The scenery and accessories 
may be extra-mundane, the actual personages whether denizens of 
the Inferno or the Paradiso are of the earth earthy. This assimi- 
lation of the seen and unseen, partly incongruous, partly the out- 
come of a profound truth, makes the latter a fair reflection of the 
former. Hence notwithstanding infernal circles and bolgias, the 
Mount of Purgatory and the more idealistic scenes of the Paradiso, 
the Divina Commcedia of Dante is almost as much a Comme'die 
Humaine as that of De Balzac himself. 

Dante's work therefore gives us the Renaissance still in the 
making. It is a collection of its constitutive elements and materials 



General Causes and Leaders. 97 

brought together from so many distant regions of space and time, 
each with its inherent attractions and repulsions, as they were being 
mingled and concocted in the great crucible of Providence. As in a 
critical moment of a battle, when rival hosts are entangled together 
in inextricable confusion, it is impossible to foretell the event ; so the 
philosophic reader of the Divina Comm&dia, when it was first pub- 
lished, might w r ell have felt some difficulty in determining the real • 
permanent issue of the imbroglio therein depicted. On a point of 
vantage of nearly six centuries wo can now discern to what offspring 
the political and mental throes of the period were really giving birth. 
The outcome is typified in the arrangement of the three acts of the 
Commcedia; for Dante's work, like the period of which it is so power- • 
ful an exponent, was the transitional purgatory that separated the 
infernal darkness and ignorance of Medievalism from the II Paradiso 
of the Reformation, and modern culture and liberty. 

One effect of the wide diversity of Dante's great work and its 
Janus-like aspect to Medievalism on the one hand, and the new cul- 
ture on the other, has been to throw doubt on the nature of his real 
convictions. Pere Hardouin thought that the Commoedia was the 
work of some anonymous disciple of Wiclif ! And a book was pub- 
lished some twenty years since to prove that Dante was a * heretic, 
a revolutionary and a socialist/ l On the other hand, the majority of 
his critics regard him as an orthodox Catholic, though an uncompro- 
mising denouncer of the temporal power, and the corruptions of the 
Papacy. One thing at least is clear : neither Dante nor his work can 
be called skeptical ; and only in a very limited and moderate degree 
can they be said to possess elements of Free-thought. Not only was 
Dante a dogmatist, but he was vehemently and passionately so. 
First he was a dogmatist by nature and temperament ; secondly, in 
his Commcedia 1 he conceives himself to possess a divinely authenti- 
cated mission as an apostle and reformer of ecclesiastical abuses, but 
a no less ardent defender of Romanist dogmas. 

i. Dante's disposition is unmistakably depicted in his face: his 
morose expression reveals the countenance of a man not only soured 
by political disappointments, but animated by a spirit which, on due 
occasion, could become fanatical. The disclosure of his features is not 
belied by his life and writings. His political animosity against the 
enemies of himself and his party rises to a pitch of ungovernable 
exasperation. No doubt party spirit then ran high; and the ill-usage 
Dante endured might well have provoked a nature far less sensitive 

1 Dante htrttique, revolutionaire, et eocialiste, Revelations tTun Catholique sur 
le moyen Aye, par E. Aroux. Paris 1864. See a short criticism of this work 
in C. Cantu's CM eretici <V Italia, vol. i. p. 146 etc. 

VOL. I. H 




98 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

than his own ; still that the author of the Commcedia should have 
been guilty of throwing stones at women and children whom he over- 
heard calumniating his party, 1 is a melancholy illustration of the 
intermingling of petty foibles with the sublimest excellencies in the 
human character. On one occasion, when irritated in a philosophical 
discussion, he employed the very unphilosophical response, l It is not 
with arguments but with the knife that such brutal doctrines should 
be answered.' 2 Against the towns and provinces of Italy by which 
he conceived himself or his party had been aggrieved he expresses 
himself with a rancour and malignity almost incredible. 3 Nor is this 
extreme harshness confined to his personal and political foes; he is just 
as severe to heretics and dissentients from the creed of the Church. 
Theology, indeed, is a subject more vitally and permanently interest- 
ing to Dante than the alternations of political parties in his beloved 
Florence. The Commcedia is a handbook of mediaeval Catholic 
dogma, just as Milton's Paradise Lost sets forth the creed of English 
Puritanism of the seventeenth century. A contemporary epitaph 
describes Dante : — 

Theologus Dantes, nullius dogmatis expers. 

And subsequent writers, like Ozanam, who have industriously col- 
lected all the phrases and words in which Dante speaks of the dogmatic 
teachings of the Church, 4 have no difficulty in confirming that verdict, 
and establishing his religious orthodoxy. The very form of the poem 
affords an admirable medium not only for touching on religious 
dogmas, but for venting theological and personal likes and dislikes. 
An imaginary Inferno and Paradiso presents unlimited scope, to the 
man of warm imagination and strong feeling, for the rewards and 
punishments of friends and foes. Not that we are to ascribe Dante's 
allocation of infernal penalties entirely to personal feeling. We must 
not forget that throughout the Commcedia he fancies himself the 
divinely appointed minister 5 of heaven's own decrees. His consecra- 
tion by St. Peter, to which he alludes twice in the 24th and 25th 
Cantos of the Paradiso, is at least one source of the authoritative 
tone in which he pronounces the doom of the lost in the Inferno, as 
well as of his distribution of the trials and beatitudes in the remaining 
two sections of his work. The 24th Canto of the Paradiso has a 

1 The story is related in Boccaccio, Vita. Com p. Ozanam, Dante et la phU. 
Cath. au XIII* Steele, p. 131. Dante's fiery temper is also the subject of th& 
114th and 115th of Sacchetti's Xovelle, Ed. Barbera, pp. 454, 459. 

1 Boccaccio, Vita. Comp. 11 Convito, iv. 14. 

8 Comp. Leigh Hunt, Stories from the Italian Poets, vol. i. 

4 Ozanam, Op. cit., chap, v., Ortkodoxie de Dante. 

• On this subject see Ugo Foscolo, Discorso sul Testo, etc. pp. 79-82. 



General Causes and Leaders. 99 

special signification in its bearing on Dante's own belief. It purports 

to contain his examination on the Christian faith by St. Peter, 

previous to his consecration to the Laureate Apostleship of the. 

Mediaeval Church. 1 Dante's definition of faith in this important \ 

passage is rigidly ecclesiastical, involving the unconditional subordi- J 

nation of the reason. His own belief he announces as a good coin, as ' 

to whose mintage, * imago and superscription/ there could be no 

question. 

* Ed io : Si V ho si lucida, e si tonda 
Che nel suo conio nulla mi s' inforsa.' 2 

But there are other passages which intimate that Dante knew what 
philosophic doubt was. Indeed, with his comprehensive far-seeing 
intellectual vision, and his rare profundity of feeling, the absence of 
all trace of such an experience would have been nothing less than an^ 
anomaly. Thus, in the passage just quoted — having assigned as evi- 
dences of Christianity: 1. Bible Inspiration; 2. Supernatural miracles 
— when he is pressed by St. Peter on the latter point he rather evades 
it, and says that supposing Christianity had been promulgated with- 
out miracles, this single marvel would make all others needless. 3 In 
the 33rd Canto of the Purgatorio we have a still more noteworthy 
passage on this subject, in -which the poet indicates that having long 
pursued for himself the path of philosophy, and finding it unsatisfac- 
tory for the noble reason of the lines : — 

' Io veggio ben, che giammai non si sazia 
Nostro 'ntelletto, se '1 ver non lo illustra '— 

he at last has recourse to Beatrice and Religion, and on this authority 
is persuaded that the Divine transcends the human. Moreover, wo 
have something like the assertion of twofold truth in the words of 
Beatrice herself, when she assures her lover that the appearance of 
heavenly justice, to mortal eyes, as injustice, was an argument of faith 
not of * heretical pravity.' 

( Parere ingiusta la nostra giustizia 
Negli occhi di mortale, 6 argomento 
Di fede, e non d' eretica nequizia.' 4 

In a similar spirit, she solves Dante's doubts as to the existence of 
evil, by limiting omnipotence : — 

1 Of. Ugo Foscolo, loc. cit., and Paradiso, Canto xxiv. and xxv. 

* Par., Cant. xxiv. v. 8(3. 
8 Par., Canto xxiv. Coinp. Essay on Augustine, Evenings with the Skejitics 

(vol. ii.) f who often employs the same argument. 

* Par., Canto iv. v. 67-69 ; and compare, on the passage, Bianchi's instructive 
note, Commocdia, p. 532. 






/' 



\ 



ioo The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

4 Voglia assoluta non consente al danno : 
Ma consentevi intanto, in quanto teme 
Se si ritrse, cadere in piu affarmo.' 1 

Dante is also aware that the intellect, even when it confines itself 
to discovered truth, is * like a wild beast resting in its lair ' : a simile 
whose singular truth and pointedness are amply attested by our 
present skeptical investigations. Doubt, he philosophically remarks, 
is not an accidental but an inherent property of truth, springing up 
at its foot like a shoot from the trunk of a tree : — 

4 Nasce per quello, a guisa di rampollo 
Appi& del vero il dubbio : ed & natura, 
Ch' al sommo pinge noi di collo in collo.' * 

and serves the same purpose of helping us to attain a higher position. 
Nor is he ignorant of the value of pure skeptical suspense, or of the 
influence of current opinion on human feeling in misleading the in- 
tellect :— 

1 Che quegli fe tra gli stolti bene abbasso 
Che senza distinzione afferma o niega 
Cosi nell' un, come nell* altro passo 
Perch* egl* incontra, che piu volte piega 
L'opinion corrente in falsa parte 
E poi V affetto lo intelletto lega.' 8 

The cause of all erroneous conclusions, whether in philosophy or 
theology, he attributes to want of skill in the investigator : — 

4 Chi pesca per lo vero, e non ha 1' arte/ 4 

Nevertheless, the final position of all truthful inquirers is not 
doubt, but actual or complete attainment. For he asserts that the 
intellect can and must attain truth ; though his reason for the opinion 
is no stronger than the d priori one so often employed for the pur- 
pose :— 

* . . . e giugner puollo 
Se non, ciascun disio sarebbe frustra. 1 5 

This realized certitude however is the lot only of Christian in- 
quirers ; it belongs only to the denizens of Paradise. On the other 
hand, prolonged doubt, unsatisfied desire, is a punishment of the 

1 Par., Canto iv. v. 109. 
% * Ibid, v. 180. 

8 Par., Canto xiii. v. 115, etc. 
* Ibid, v. 123. 
; : 8 Par., Canto iv. v. 128. 



WW • 






General Causes and Leaders. 101 

Inferno, for the ancient heathens bewail their destiny in the plaintive 
words : — 

* Che senza speme vivemo in disio.' l 

The conception underlying this single verse is of itself enough to 
prove Dante's dogmatic bias ; and his inability to regard unrealized 
aspiration and effort as anything but an infernal state. From this 
condition of eternal hopelessness, that befel Gentile truth-seekers, he 
takes occasion to urge on Christians passive acquiescence in dogma ; 
and says that revelation was given in order to extinguish thirst for 
knowledge. His words are a confirmation of what I have already v 
stated : that Dante had an experimental knowledge of doubt. They j 
suggest that he had himself applied his reason to solve some of the 
speculative doctrines of the Church; and had been foiled in the 
attempt. On the subject of Dante's belief — the passage is one of the 
most-important in the Commoedia:— 

1 Mat to 6 chi spera, che nostra ragione 
Possa trascorrer la 'nfinita via, 
Che tiene una Sustanzia in tre Persone 

State con tent i, umana gente, al quia 
Che se potuto aveste veder tutto 
Mestier non era partorir Maria : 

E disiar vedeste senza frutto 
Tai, che sarebbe lor disio quetato 
Ch* eternalmente e dato lor per lutto.' 3 

Bat the complete proof of this disposition, and of his animus against\ 
all heretics and doubters, must always be based on the terrible punish- ) 
ments he allots them. The principles on which these decisions are / 
based are neither consistent nor clear. There seems a division be- 
tween Dante's ecclesiastical prejudices and his human sympathies. 
On the one hand, the circle reserved for heretics and schismatics is 
one of the lowest in the Inferno. 3 The perpetual cleaving of these 
dividers of the truth, and especially the dichotomy of Mahomet, who 
is curiously regarded as a dissentient or apostate from the Christian 
faith, 4 is described with a particularity absolutely loathsome. Un- 
baptized infants are consigned to hell as remorselessly as by Augus- 
tine, though Dante does provide a limbics, an idea which the great 

1 Inferno, Canto iv. v. 42. 

* Fury., Canto iii. v. B4, etc. 

8 Canto xxviii. 

4 In one pf the metrical chronicles of the eleventh century, Mahomet is styled 
a * heresiarch more potent than Arms.' Cf. A. Bartoli, Storia di Lett. ItaL y i. 
p. 76. The conception of Mahomet as a schismatic is not however uncommon 
in the mediaeval ages. 



102 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Latin Father vehemently opposed. 1 The wisest and most virtuous 
heathen are located in the Inferno : in a limbus of which Bouterwek 
well remarked that it contains the * best Society ' of the whole 
Dlvina Commcedia; while the upper regions of the Paradiso have no 
worthier representatives of humanity than narrow-minded types of 
mediaeval monkery, like SS. Dominic, Bernard and Peter Damianus. 

(There is in most cases no distinction suggested between ethical and 
speculative error; the latter being awarded a punishment equal to 
that of the former. Arius and Sabellius are characterized in terms 
of severity that a Church Council or a bigoted Latin Father could 
hardly exceed. 8 No doubt Dante's mind was much exercised by the 
fate of those who are involuntarily ignorant of Christianity; but his 
final decision on the issue can hardly be styled either humane or 
v Christian ; for he lays it down that all those born after the coming of 
Christ are destined to hell. 3 An instructive example of the extent 
to which Dante was prepared to go on the side of sacerdotalism, and 
of his participation in some of the most mischievous conceptions of 
his time, is the retribution awarded to Vanni Fucci, which is assigned 
not so much on account of his crimes and bloodshed, as because he 
Jiad robbed a sacristy ! * 
/ But while Danto thus evinces, from his ecclesiastical standpoint, 
■' the narrow mind and restless temper of a grand inquisitor, there is 
! another aspect of his character which reveals him as a humanist and 
! hater of spiritual tyranny, at least when manifested in an excessive 
i form. However capricious might appear some of the judgments of 
the Inferno, however personal others, there were many instances in 
which his decisions were approved by the popular conscience. That 
rapacious princes, and greedy and lustful prelates, should reap the 
reward of their ill-doings was a proposition no believer in the exist- 
ence of II Inferno was disposed to reject. The decrees of Minos and 
Rhadamanthus, as expounded by their poetic secretary, purported in 
many cases to rest on a purely moral basis. At least orthodoxy with 
| all its claims was not regarded as an infallible preservative from 
■ infernal penalties ; nor was non-Christianity an insuperable barrier 



1 The limbus infantum in the early Church was a receptacle to which the 
6ouls of unbaptized children were consigned, but in which they were supposed 
to suffer no misery. The Council of Carthage a.d. 418, under the influence of 
Augustine, condemned this doctrine, and deliberately proclaimed the Eternal, 
perdition of all unbaptized infants. Cf. * Essay on Augustin,' Evenings with the 
Skeptics, vol. ii. p. 200. 

-* See Par,, Canto xiii. 

• Par., Canto xix. On this subject comp. Skeptics of the French Rena'mance % 
1 Essay on La Mothe le Vayer.' 

4 Inferno, Canto xxiv. 



General Causes and Leaders. 103 

to the enjoyment of Paradise. So far the * power of the keys ' was 
implicitly denied. A spiritual sovereignty unable to preserve its 
own infallible chiefs from the penalties due to their misdeeds could 
scarcely be regarded, even by the unreflecting, as omnipotent in the 
distribution of the rewards and punishments of the world to come. 
Dante therefore gave a considerable impulse to the advance of human 
freedom, by causing Christianity to revert in some degree to its 
primary form ; and insisting upon justice, well-doing and unselfish- 
ness from its chief ministers, who had impiously sought exemption 
from these duties in their official authority. The idea thus instilled 
into popular conceptions was no doubt gorminative, and capable of 
large application to all the duties and relations in which men were 
conceived to stand to God. 

ii. Nor, in view of the popularity so rapidly attained by the Divina 
Commoedia, were Dante's strictures on the unholy pretension of the 
Papacy to secular no less than spiritual sovereignty, unimportant. 
The opposite theory of a ' Holy Roman Empire ' was, as we know, by 
no means new ; but it was one thing to promulgate it in the court of 
a Barbarossa, or Louis of Bavaria, or to discuss it in learned treatises 
De Monarchia, written for the most part in Latin, but quite another 
to enounce it in popular rhymes. Hence such verses as : — 

4 Di' oggimai clie la Chiesa di Roma 
Per confondere in se duo reggimenti 
Cade nel fango, e sc bmtta e la soma, 1 l 

were pregnant with implications far in excess of their prima facie 
meaning. Those who questioned the one power might proceed 
farther than Dante, and might ask themselves why they conceded 
the other, and the question would bo the more hazardous since Rome 
had authoritatively based her twofold rule on the same indivisible 
foundation. So also his invective against- the Church — his designa- \ 
tion of her as the harlot of the Revelation 2 — would have the greater 
effect as emanating from one who regarded himself as a faithful son/ 
of the true spiritual Church. 

iii. A further stimulus to intellectual emancipation must be ad- ] 
judged to Dante's stress upon philosophy, or truth, as inherently J 
divine. This is the glorious subject of his Convito which has been 
described as the ' First work on philosophy written in the Italian 
language.' 3 In developing this theme Dante is no doubt on the 
track of Christian Fathers and mediaeval thinkers. But it was ad- 

1 Purg., Canto xvi. v. 127. 

1 Purff. } Canto xxxii. 

• Settembrini, Lezioni di Lcttcratura Italiana, i. 159. 




104 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

vantageous to rescue the idea from the Latin tomes and dialectic- 
^orms of scholasticism, and assert it in popular form and language. 
Most important also — though beyond the scope of Dante's vision — 
was the promulgation of such teaching at the commencement of the 
era of modern science and inquiry, at a time when every new truth, 
no matter how demonstrable in itself or to what sphere of know- 
ledge it pertained, was liable to be estimated, and either received or 
rejected, according to a standard of theological orthodoxy. 

iv. That Dante entertained Protestant sympathies, and in this 
respect contributed to Free-thought, we have already seen. Tho 
precise extent of those sympathies must always remain a matter of 
doubt. The question itself has degenerated into a party issue be- 
tween tho rival religionists. Unduly exaggerated on the one side, it 
is just as unduly depreciated on the other. On this point Dante has 
been long destined to endure a dichotomy not dissimilar to that 
which he awards to some of the denizens of the Inferno. Romanist* 
claim the greater share in his thought and sympathies ; while thin. 
claim is contested and interpreted in their own favour by Protestants. 
The former lay stress on his expressions of reverence for the Church, 
for her ministers, her dogmas and her worship. The latter point to 
the doom of ^yil Popes — to his stress on the Bible as the main source 
of Christian truth — to his invective against tho greed, lust and ambi- 
tion — the parasitical growths of every system of sacerdotalism — to his 

I /preference for moral purity, as superior to religious rites. Weighing 

[ impartially the two sides we must I think conclude, as we have 

* \ already done, that the preponderance is on the side of Protestantism. 
No one at least can dispute these three facts : 1. That Dante was 
irreconcilably opposed to the Romanism of the thirteenth century. 

2. That a Reformed Romanism, such as he would have approved, 
would not have varied greatly from some types of Protestantism.* 

3. That the general direction of his sympathies was indisputably 
towards Freedom, both spiritual and political. 

v. An indirect but undoubted effect of the Divina Comma*dia y 
especially of the Inferno, was to initiate those reflections on the 

1 Dante thus defines the mode in which all truth or philosophy is related 
to God. According to him Philosophy is 'amoroso uso di Sapienza, il quale- 
massimamente e in Dio, perocche in Lui e somma Sapienza, e sommo Amore, * v 
sommo Atto,' Convito, iii. 12 : Ed. Giuliani, p. 281. On the general question, 
comp. Giuliani's Excursus. Delia Filosofia del Convito di Dante. Convito, p. 895. 
See also Settembrinrs Lezxoni, i. p. 160. 

* On this point the author of the article ( Dante ' in ErscJi uml G ruber re- 
marks, ' Eine katholische Kirche, nach den Grundsatzen Dante's gebild«*t, 
wurde auch der freisinnigste Protestant nichts ohne Ehrfurcht und Anerken- 
iuing bctrachten. 1 



General Causes and Leaders. 105 

physical hell of mediaeval theology which have since operated in 
undermining the belief among thoughtful Christians. The Inferno 
of Dante has thus ironically contributed to quench the material 
flames, and annihilate the physical tortures of the creed which gave 
them birth. The horrible realism of Dante's truly infernal pictures — 
the ruthless barbarity of his torments — the.fiendish ingenuity, worthy 
of a familiar of the Inquisition, that could devise such a variety of 
inhuman punishments, the audacity that could resort to ideas of the= 
most foul and loathsome description 1 in pursuit of its purpose— how- 
ever congenial to the imperfect civilization, the materializing concep- 
tions, the brutal passions of mediaeval Italy, were destined to a rapid 
transformation in a milder and more humane age. Then the dogma 
of a material hell was at its climax of development; and the creations 
of the Inferno — overdrawn and over-coloured as we rightly consider 
them — were, so far from being coarser, in reality somewhat more 
refined than current descriptions of hell — those e.g. which formed the 
staple of the discourses of the preaching friars. 2 The ghastly daubs 
which still represent, to the lower classes of Italians, their conceptions 
of hell are inartistic delineations on canvas of themes and spectacles 
which in 11 Inferno are set forth with eloquence of language and a 
vivid if grotesque imagination. Its immediate effect on the thought 
of the Renaissance is seen in the irony and ridicule to which the 
names and ideas of hell and purgatory were subjected by Boccaccio, 
Sacchetti, Pulci, Ariosto, and other Italian novelists and poets. The 
skeptical recoil from, and disdain of, such brutal exhibitions were not 
dissimilar to the reckless contempt and boisterous hilarity with which 
a public execution is generally witnessed by the unfeeling crowd. 
The details of the Inferno have often been compared with the de- N 
scriptions in Milton's Hell; No doubt the extreme particularity and 
distinctness of the imagery of the former presents a striking con- 
trast to the magnificent vagueness of the latter. It is generally 
agreed that the difference is partly owing to inherent dissimilarity in 
the structure of the imaginations of Dante and Milton, but I should 
also ascribe it, in a great measure, to a progressive sense of the fitness 
of modesty and reserve in describing the conditions of the world to 
come. Were any poet possessing a genius commensurate with the* 
subject to take up once more the theme of E Inferno we should ex- 
pect a still further development of vagueness — imagery and accessories 

1 Comp. the well-known passage of W. S. Landor's Pentameron, commencing, 
' The filth iness of some passages would disgrace the drunkenest horse-dealer, 1 
$tc, etc. Works, vol. ii. p. 307. 

1 Comp. A. Meray's most interesting work, La Vie an temps des Libre* 
Pricfieurs, vol. i. p. 277 etc. Paris, 1878. 



io6 T/ie Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

of a more directly supernatural kind — spiritual tortures described in 
suitable psychical terms. No other treatment would now be accepted 
*is befitting the subject, for the reason that while the doctrine of 
future retribution still holds a place in the convictions of most 
Christians, the dogma of a material hell can no longer be said to 
exist. 

yi. Dante's enormous and diversified erudition must also have had 
<i wholesome and enlightening effect on an age when human learning 
s^was confined to the narrow groove of scholastic theology. With a 
knowledge of the schoolmen, and the Aristotelian doctors, whether 
Christian or Mahometan, he combined studies of a more distinctly 
modern cast. In his youth, we are told, he cultivated music and 
drawing, as well as poetry. So far as he could, he investigated 
natural science; as numerous passages of the Divina Commoedia 
serve to prove. His work Dc Volgari Eloquio shows a profound 
acquaintance with the various Italian and Provencal dialects of the 
thirteenth century; and reveals considerable philological capacity. 
He was not, any more than Petrarca, sufficiently acquainted with 
Greek to read Homer in the original ; but some knowledge of the 
language he almost certainly possessed. He had also studied, like 
most of the Free-thinkers of the Renaissance, the Jewish Cabbala, 
and, as his Vita Nuova proves, was by no means devoid of the mysti- 
cism with which that study is allied. Add to these varied intellec- 
tual activities his political and historical studies, and we perceive 
that Dante was one of those omnivorous, omnipetent or all-seeking 
intellects whose capacities are limited not by their own defective 
Amplitude so much as by the external bounds and conditions in- 
cidental to their working — one of those rare minds for which human 
knowledge is too little, and human life much too short. 

vii. Besides the effects of Dante's writings we must, lastly, not 

omit to notice the impression wrought by his gigantic personality on 

the age in which he lived. The perfection of individual development 

may be likened to a gradual self-sculptured elevation through grada- . 

tions of basso and alto-relievo, until the man — a completed statue — 

stands forth completely detached from the rude matrix in which 

he was embedded. This separate personality forms the common 

/^characteristic of all the leaders of the Renaissance. Mental and 

I spiritual independence is the connecting link which joins together 

\ Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio, Pulci, Macchiavelli, Guicciardini and 

\Pomponazzi. This was the quality by which they opposed, and 

gradually stood aloof from, medievalism. They thus protested 

against the sacrifice of humanity, in its noblest representatives, to 

the supposed interests of effete systems in philosophy, religion and 



General Causes and Leaders. 107 

politics. Dante was accustomed to boast that he was his own party; 1 
and few boasts could claim fuller justification. His adhesion, such 
as it was, to mediaeval Christianity and philosophy, was the deliberate 
reasoned conviction of the man himself. His dogma was in reality 
his own sole creation — his freedom, the space his own personal needs 
had devised. Even if those who lived in the contemplation of his 
magnificent isolation did not care either to share his dogma or remain 
content with his freedom, his own example, his sturdy self-assertion, 
might well animate them so to regulate their own convictions as to 
secure a still greater measure of religious and philosophical liberty. 

p t Petrarca, however, not Dante, is the great representa- \ 

tive of Italian humanism. If Dante is the prophet of the J 
movement, combining the fearlessness and austerity of an Elijah with 
the eloquence and sublimity of an Isaiah, Petrarca is its first apostle — 
tender, passionate and profound like St. John. If the former foresees 
and heralds the new r dawn, the latter basks and rejoices in its early 
sunshine. The different qualifications of the men, no less than their 
difference of environment, were admirably adapted to the parts they 
were respectively called to play in the regenerative movement of 
Europe. Dante was the thunder-peal that boded a breaking up of 
the long period of mediaeval drought and barrenness — Petrarca w r as 
the rain that actually brought relief. While Dante's intellect was 
more gigantic and imposing, Petrarca's was more plastic, susceptible / 
and expansive. While Dante's imagination was more powerful and 
intense, Petrarca's was more sympathetic and many-sided. Dante's 
learning, like his mind, was marked by inassiveness, not devoid of 
pedantry or of a certain Cyclopsean grotesqueness of outline. 
Petrarca's was characterized by elegance, polish and refinement, with 
the addition of an appropriate vagueness of definition. In thfcir writ- 
ings, the one moves us like a Colossus, with his enormous dimensions 
and superhuman majesty, the other affects us like a shapely statue 
of Apollo, with his graceful form and exquisite proportions. Dante, 
moreover, was a dogmatist who clung tenaciously to beliefs and 
superstitions of the dark ages; while Petrarca was a child of the new 
world, full of its fresher aspirations, and prepared to substitute culture 
and a tender nature-w r orship for much of what was then current as 
Christianity. Dante's mind had most of the qualities of an Ecclesi- \ 
astic — an austere St. Dominic, for instance — Petrarca was a* genuine ) 
philosopher and freethinker. The former venerated as his classical 

1 c Parte per se stesso.' Par., Canto, xvii. The phras3 is not to be limited 
as it is by some writers (Comp. Bouterarek, Gesch. der Poesie, i. p. 80) to his 
political pes it ion. 



108 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

model the conservative Virgil, the latter took for his guiding genius 
the eclectic and Academic skeptic, Cicero. 

Of late years Petrarca has received renewed attention at the hands 
of his fellow-countrymen, thanks to the celebration of his fifth cen- 
tenary in 1874, as well as to the general revival of interest in her 
mediaeval thinkers which marks the literature of Italy in the present* 
day. The result has been to enlarge our knowledge respecting him, 
and to increase his reputation as a thinker and philosopher. 

Born in 1304 — seventeen years before the death of Dante — 
Petrarca's youth is distinguished by the precocious development of 
his powers and his enthusiasm for classical studies. His father 
wished to bring him up to his own profession of the law ; but his 
designs were frustrated by the zest with which his son devoured the 
poets and philosophers of antiquity. At an early age he was sent to 
the University of Montpellier, where he remained four years. From 
thence he went to Bologna to complete his studies in jurisprudence. 
Altogether seven j-ears were thus employed in his legal education — 
years which he afterwards said were ' altogether lost, not spent.' 
He contrived, however, at both universities, to snatch some precious 
moments from his irksome studies to devote to Cicero and the Latin 
Poets. His father, despairing of his success in his profession so long 
as his mind was so fully concentrated on anciont literature, once 
threw a number of his classical books into the fire; but was so 
touched by his cries and entreaties that he snatched a few of them 
from the flames and restored them to the weeping youth. The death 
of his father, when he was twentj'-two years of age, left him at 
liberty to pursue what was clearly the calling of his life. He re- 
turned to Avignon; where, finding that the paternal property did not 
suffice for a livelihood, he received the tonsure, and thus becamo 
eligible for ecclesiastical preferment, though he never took orders. 

Devoting himself to literature and poetry, Petrarca soon began to 
acquire renown. This was largely facilitated by the residence, at 
that time, of the Papal Court at Avignon, and the intercourse thereby 
afforded with so many distinguished persons, who crowded to it from 
every country in Europe. The interchange of thought with men of 
so many different opinions and sympathies served the double purpose 
of enlarging the range of his intellect and imagination, and of con- 
firming the free direction of his studies, so happily begun by the 
thoughtful perusal of Cicero. Hence, although Petrarca treats every- 
thing belonging to Avignon with the greatest contumely and disdain r 
there is no doubt that he was largely indebted to the mental excita- 

1 Comp. Mezieres, Pttrarque, p. 7. 



General Causes and Leaders. 109 

tion it served to create, for the formation of the enlightened views 
and liberal sympathies which afterwards distinguished him. Not^ 
the least of these awakening agencies was the insight his residence 
at Avignon afforded into the corruption of the Romish Church; while 
from its geographical position the city still cherished fond remini- 
scences of the Troubadours and Prove^al poetry, and thus possessed ■ 
affinities with the chief popular literature of the time. His own ' 
sonnets are, to a great extent, polished echoes and reproductions of 
the old poems of chivalry ; and so far he may be called a successor 
of the Trouveres and Troubadours. 1 

But Petrarca did not draw all his literary impulses from Avignon. 
He traversed Italy, France and Spain in search of MSS. of the 
classics, as well as employed all his friends in the same work. Many 
MSS. he transcribed with his own hand ; and his industry in the 
acquisition of these treasures was second only to the prodigious 
activity of Poggio Bracciolini. His zeal was rewarded with merited 
success. He was enabled to form a goodly collection of classical 
works ; and his eager quest brought him into contact with all the 
illustrious students and patrons of the new learning of his time. 

Petr area's training and pursuits admirably qualified him for the 
position he has so long held as the chief Humanist of the Renais- 
sance. His distinguishing merit, and his principal contribution to\ 
Italian Free-thought, consists in his separation from, and hostility to,!! 
scholasticism. He is clear-sighted enough to discern, and sufficiently* 
enlightened to welcome, the new intellectual and spiritual light 
dawning over Europe. To him medievalism is, without qualifica- 
tion — ' the dark ages.' He is hostile to it both as an intellectual and 
as a religious system. He detests its ignorance, its pedantry, its 
dogma, its tyranny and its superstition. The commencement of this ) 
free aspiration we must assign to his study of Cicero ; who seems to / 
have produced the same quickening influence on his mind as he did 
on that of Augustine. Burckhardt has well observed the effect of 
Cicero's popularity during the Renaissance as an eclectic and par- - 
tially skeptical thinker. This influence he shares with the Platonic 
dialogues a little later on ; so that Cicero and Sokrates may be called 
the chief connecting links that joined the skepticism of ancient 
Oreece and Rome with its revival in modern Europe. In the case of 
Petrarca, his artistic sympathies seem to have been first attracted by 
€icero's style, before his understanding was captivated by his philo- 

1 Petrarca 1 ** indebtedness to the Troubadours for qualities of style, metre 
And exaggerated sentiment is now generally admitted. The latest and fullest 
treatment of this subject is Prof. A. BaVtoli's chapter, ' II Petrarca e I Tro va- 
lor i ' in his J Primi due Secoli delta Letteratura Italiana, p. 588. 



1 10 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

sophy. When he grew able to appreciate the latter, he discovered a 
range of thought and a freedom of treatment which served him in 
good stead in his attack on mediaeval philosophy. 

Scholasticism was a method and a system. Professing to be based 
on dialectical processes, it nullified its profession by the arbitrary 
assumption of numberless first principles which it regarded as in- 
fallible. Thus the dialectic form, which was an advantage to tho 
strong and independent thinker, as supplying a method and stand- 
point in human reason which he would use without restriction, was 
a snare to the weaker mind, as it presumed on an infallible basis of 
logic which in reality had no existence. Tho freer aspects of scho- 
lasticism, by means of its stress on logic, we have already investi- 
gated. Petrarca was unable to perceive that it had any. Tho 
massive tomes of tho school philosophy were to him a heap of chaff 
in which he could not find a single grain of truth or freedom. Tho 
universities whero they wero taught — in other words all in Europe — 
were disseminators of ignorance and dungeons of Free-thought. Ho 
reproaches the scholastic teachers, as Plato did the Sophists, with 
prostituting their talents. 1 Like cunning hierophants they affected a 
mystery and profundity which was, very largely, only the creation of 
thoir own interested selfishness. Dialectic, the basis of scholasticism, 
seems to him a puerile employment, utterly useless in the ordinary 
concerns of life. The only utility any thinking man would ascribe to 
it is as a kind of mental gymnastic. As such it may be useful for 
children, but an old sj'llogism-monger is ridiculous. Furthermore, 
dialectic can only bo a means, it can never bo the sole end, of intel- 
lectual effort, which it is the object of scholasticism to make it. Tho 
( aim of scholasticism is to render its disciples able disputants, not to 
V teach them real knowledge. Hence ho ridicules the rewards which 
attach to these controversialists; the degrees, e.g. of Doctor and 
Master, which by pompous insignia and empty ceremony transform a 
man from a blockhead to a full-blown philosopher.* He describes the 
coremony of degree-conferring, or rather the exercise attending it, in 

1 Comp. Voigt, Wiederbdebung des classischen Alterthmns^ p. 38. 

* This was a frequent subject of satirical invective with the satirists of tho 
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Barclay, e.g. in his Shyppe of Fades, ridi- 
cules those who 

4 Lesynge theyr tyme at the unyversyte 
Yet count they themselfe of great auctoryte 
With theyr proude nodes on theyr neckes hangynge, 
They haue the lawde ; but other haue the cunnyngc\ 

They thynke that they have all scyence perfytely 
"Within theyr hertes bostynge them of the same, 



General Causes and Leaders. 1 1 1 

the following amusing terms : — ' The silly youth arrives at the halL 
His teachers announce and celebrate him. Neighbours and friends- 
praise him. When bidden he mounts the rostrum, looking down on 
all things from thence as from a great height, and murmuring I know 
not what confused matter. Whereupon his elders, vying with each 
other, exalt him to heaven as if he had spoken divine things. Mean- 
while bells ring and trumpets blare. Kisses are bestowed on him. 
The round cap is placed on his head, the black gown on his back. 
When these ceremonies are completed, he comes down a wise man* 
who went up a fool — truly a marvellous metamorphosis — though 
unknown to Ovid.' l 

But scholasticism is not only hurtful as teaching and rewarding 
disputation and fostering the pride of ignorance. The system itself 
is narrow. Petrarca's conception of culture is indeed as broad and \ 
inclusive as was the knowledge of his time. The wise man for him / 
is not the school theologian, but the student of history, the philo- 
sopher, the poet, the theologian — all embodied in the same person- 
ality. Every faculty of man should be cultivated, every science N 
acquired ; but the attitude of men towards knowledge ought not to ) 
be that of finders but of seekers, not of professors but of humble / 
disciples. 2 There is but one universal science worthy the pursuit of 
all men — viz. t ruth an d.irirtue. 3 For the purposes of this dual 
object, he reproaches the sciences of his time with being useless ; just 
as Agrippa, two centuries after, accuses all sciences of being false. 
There is indeed a slight soupcon of narrowness in the extreme utili- 
tarianism which he makes the end of every science. The philo- 
sophers, he says, search for the origin of all things, and know not that 
God is their Creator. They describe the virtues, but do not practise 
them. The theologians are transformed into logicians, if not to 
Sophists. They will not be loving children, but knowers of God. 
1 These men/ he says in another place, ' dispute about the secrets of 
Nature, just as if they had come down from heaven and shared the 
counsel of the Omnipotent, forgetting what is written, " Who hath 
known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been His counsellor." ' * 

In his perpetual reproach of scholasticism as busying itself with 

Though they therto theyr mynde dyd neuer aply ; 
Without the thynge, they joy them of the name. 1 

Of unprofytalle stod*;. 

1 Op. om., Basle (1581), torn, i., p. 10. Comp. Muzieres, Petrarque p. 8(31. 
Voigt, Wiederhelebung, p. 38. 

* Voigt, Op. cit., p. 30. 

* Epiftda rer. Sen., xii. 2. 

4 Comp. F. Fiorentino, Scritti Varii, p. 100, etc. 



1 1 2 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

f -questions quite apart from the ordinary interests of humanity, 
^ Petrarca no doubt hit on its main defect, now becoming more and 
more palpable to the Free-thinkers of the Renaissance. What 
possible connexion they asked could exist between the disputes on 
Realism and Nominalism, or the controversies that divided Scotists 
and Thomists, and the common needs and facts of man's daily life. 
What relation did they bear to the cause of * Truth and virtue.' 
Not only were they useless ; they were mischievous and perverting, 
inasmuch as the energy devoted to the solution of inscrutable 
Tiddles and the interpretation of incomprehensible dogmas, might 
have been devoted to objects that came nearer to useful knowledge 
•and bore more directly on morality. As it was, the intellects of 
the best men of the age were frittered away and wasted in pur- 
suits far removed from the domain of human life and action. 
Mediaevalism stood like a gigantic primaeval temple raised by 
Cyclopasan hands, and possessing the attributes of a bygone age; 
but utterly out of harmony with the smaller and more useful erec- 
tions which were beginning to .rise around it on every side. 
/ Petrarca, to his imperishable fame, called attention to the incon- 
\ gruity ; nay more, he commenced the undermining operations necessary 
\ to its overthrow. 

Petrarca, however, was not content with attacking scholasticism as 
a general system. "He boldly came to particular names and author- 
ities. Half of the success of his attack is due to this fact. He knew 
the superstitious reverence of the latter half of the middle ages for 
Aristotle. In Petrarca's time* much of this reverence was transferred 
to Averroes, his great expounder : l che '1 gran comento feo,' as Dante 
labels him. These two idols of the schools in his time Petrarca at- 
tacked at first with caution, but afterwards with fearlessness and 
unreserve. He is therefore a predecessor of Pomponazzi ; though his 
standpoint is that of a general free-thinker, while Pomponazzi is a 
philosophical skeptic. He dared to say that after all Aristotle was 
only a man, and did not know everything — a proposition which, how- 
ever reasonable to us, has been rightly characterized by Professor 
M6zieres as * une parole memorable, la plus bardie peut-etre qu'ait 
entendue le moyen age.' 1 The mere breath of suspicion against the 
infallibility of the Stagirite was at that time a dictum of heterodoxy 
equivalent to, if not exceeding, the open denial of a fundamental article 
f of the Christian faith. To Aristotle Petrarca opposed, as an authority, 
I Plato; but for no other reason than the high fame he had always 
maintained in the Christian Church. The relative merits of Aristotle 

1 PArarque, p. 362. 



General Causes and Leaders. 113 

and Plato were not presented to the Italian mind in a definite form ) 
until the next century. 

We thus perceive that Petrarca adopted against the gigantic fabric 
of mediaeval dogma — the centre of intellectual and spiritual authority 
of his age — a position of free and independent criticism, which goes 
far to justify the title bestowed on him of ' the father of modern 
criticism. ,1 The very restlessness of his intellect, and the compre- 
hensiveness of its range, make criticism and dissidence the natural 
discharge of its functional activity. Not only did he analyse, 
question, and dissent from writers and authorities with whom he had 
little sympathy, but he subjected his own intimate favourites, Virgil 
and Cicero, to the same treatment. 8 The only basis of such fearless 
independence, and its sole outcome, is a protest against all authority 
ab extra, no matter from what source emanating, or to what prescrip- 
tive rights appealing. Petrarca declares — a momentous declaration A 
at that time — the inalienable right of the individual reason to j 
examine, test and determine the nature and quality of every truth / 
presenting itself for adoption. In other words he is a free-thinker ; 
and to a considerable extent a skeptic. That this was really Petrar- 
ca 's position we shall see more fully further on. 

But Petrarca's quarrel was not only with mediaeval philosophy ; it 
also included mediaeval Christianity.. They were indeed indivisible, 
for scholasticism was merely the literary and philosophical form 
mediaeval religion had assumed. His early life at Avignon disclosed 
to him the corruption of the Papal Court then in residence there, and 
he records his experience in vivid and imperishable characters, both 
in his Latin and Italian Poems. 8 This first impression was more 
than confirmed by what he saw of Romanism in his travels, and by 
his later acquaintance with it at Rome. The capital of Western 
Christendom he addresses in tones which recal the denunciations of 
a Hebrew Prophet, or the writer of the Apocalypse. In two of his 
sonnets 4 he apostrophises it as ' The Greedy Babylon ': — 

( Fon tana di dolore, albergo d' ira, 
Scola d* errori, e tempio d* eresia.' 

This description of Rome as the ' School of errors and the temple of 
heresy,' incidentally throws, I may observe, a curious but not insigni- 

1 Mezieres, Op. cit., p. 862. 

* Mezi&res, Pitrarque, p. 871. Comp. Dr. Koerting's Petrarca?* Leben und 
Wertey p. 511. 

* See Eclogues vi. and vii. Op., Basle, voL iii. pp. 14 and 15 : and the 14th 
of his Miscellaneous Sonnets. 

* Rime Ed. Padova, iL pp. 278, 274. 

VOL. I. I 



ii4 ^* Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

ficant light on Petrarca's estimate of ecclesiastical orthodoxy. His 
literary fame also served to bring him into contact with leading 
ecclesiastics, whom he found, as a class, devoted to luxury, idleness, 
and ambition, not to godliness and sound learning. The lower 
orders of clergy added to debauchery, and grosser forms of vice, an 
ignorance and superstition almost surpassing belief. Petrarca's 
refined manners and learned tastes recoiled from men whose occupa- 
tions, ideas and sympathies were so utterly opposed to his own. His 
studies of the early Christian Fathers, especially Lactantius and 
Augustine, soon disclosed the difference between the Papal Chris- 
tianity of the fourteenth century, and the purity of the primitive 
Church, cradled in poverty : — 

' Fondata in casta ed umil povertate.' 

Like Dante and other humanists, he finds in Constantino's donation, 
that ' fatal marriage-dower/ * the source of most of its after ambition 
and corruption. In this clear recognition of wealth and inordinate 
power as disastrous to the true objects of Christianity, Petrarca 
partook of those views which afterwards found their climax in the 
Reformation. But he was also impelled in the same direction by his 
( Monarchical ' sympathies, and his faith in the universal sovereignty 
of the Holy Roman Empire. By aiming at secular power, the Papacy 
had encroached on a jurisdiction as divine as that of its own spiritual 
authority. Added to these feelings, as partly suggesting, partly cor- 
roborating them, was the modification of Romanist Christianity, pro- 
duced by his classical studies. Cicero and Virgil were not only 
superior to the Church Fathers in Latinity, in learning, in intel- 
lectual sympathy, in general culture, but they were also superior to 
most of them in religion and morality. That Cicero, e.g. was not a 
Christian, so far as formal profession and outward worship were con- 
cerned, could not be denied. But Petrarca, with Boccaccio and other 
humanists, had attained a somewhat loftier standpoint than that 
which estimated a man's faith by external adherence to specific creeds 
and dogmas. Regarding his spirit, the general tone of his writings, 
and his professedly high moral principle, 8 Petrarca pronounced 
Cicero a virtual Christian ; a man of instincts and tendencies so 
allied to Christianity that he must infallibly have been a Christian 
had he come in contact with the teachings of Christ. Nor was 
Cicero the only writer of antiquity for whom Petrarca's broad culture 

1 Comp. Dante, Inferno, Canto xix. 

* Burckhardt has pointed out that with all his enthusiasm for Cicero, 
Petrarca was fully alive to the imperfections of his character both as a man 
and as a statesman. Cultur d. Renainance, vol. i. p. 294 and Note. 



General Causes and Leaders. 1 1 5 

and liberal sympathies were concerned. He displays almost equal 
interest in Virgil (Plato, whom he read in Latin), Seneca, Lucan, 
Ovid ; in a word for all poets and prose writers whose Latinity and 
morals were in his opinion irreproachable. Had Petrarca planned, 
like his great predecessor, a Divina Commedia, the occupants of 
the Inferno and Paradiso would undoubtedly have been compelled 
to change places. Cicero and Virgil, Sokrates and Plato, would 
have been assigned to the higher regions of the Paradiso, instead of 
monkish obscurantists like Dominic and Damianus. Petrarca, how- \ 
ever, did not oppose the dogmas of Christianity. He had not the^ 
slightest desire to enact the role of a reformer, either within or 
without the Church. When, therefore, by going hack to Christian 
antiquity and the apostolic age he was able to tone down the exces- 
sive pretensions of Romanism to a measure more in harmony with 
his judgment, he was content to accept the result as the true 
Christianity of his allegiance, and to ignore the dogmatic extrava- 
gances of its Papal development. Nevertheless he. was not prepared 
to sanction the open ridicule which the disciples of Averroes some- 
times levelled at Christianity, and at its great doctors, Paul and ^ 
Augustine. He resolutely defended his religion from these narrow- ^ 
minded dogmatists, and an anecdote is recorded of his forcible ejec- j 
tion of one of them from his house. Vogt l rightly remarks on this 
that Petrarca's defence of Christianity from Averroists is not in the 
interest of ecclesiastical Christianity but of his own. 3 This is true ; 
but his feeling to Averroes is not only a question of religion, it is \ 
also one of general culture. Averroism represented to him a blind, 
pedantic, self-conceited philosophy, to which he opposes Christianity 1 
as a system based on humility and conscious ignorance, and as a J 
cultus which placed ethical practice above speculation. On this 
point Petrarca shares largely the same skeptical aspect of the 
Christian faith which impressed itself on other Christian skeptics, 
such as Huet, Le Vayer, and Pascal — I mean its insistence on 
humility and self-distrust, aud its opposition to intellectual and 
spiritual pride. Petrarca's relation to the dogmas of the Church, 
and conversely their mode of presentation to his intellect, is instinc- 
tively shown by his proofs of immortality. The grounds he assigns 
for believing it are not drawn from the Bible, or from the creeds of 
the Church, or from the testimonies of Christian writers, but exclu- 

1 Comp. Vogt, Op. cit., p. 58. This incident is naturally made much of by 
writers anxious to prove Petrarca's complete orthodoxy. Cf. t^j % Caesar Cantu, 
Oli eretiei d? Italia, vol. i. p. 176. 

* Vogt., Op. cit., p. 57. 



1 1 6 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

sively from classical authors. He relies especially on the * Scipio's 
Dream ' of Cicero, and other scattered intimations collected from his 
writings ; and also adduces the Phcedo of Plato. 1 This was no doubt 
the point of view from which he contemplated all Christian truths. 
He saw them through the medium of classical learning, and valued 
them in proportion as their presentation by the Church harmonized 
with that medium. A dogma so exclusively Christian as to have no 
similarity or connexion, direct or indirect, with heathen thought, he 
would have estimated at a very low price. Thus, without any formal 
development, perhaps with only a partial realization of the outcome 
of his own thoughts and aspirations, Petrarca regarded Christianity, 
or in point of fact, Religion, as essentially culture. As his latest 
biographer remarks, he was first a Pagan philosopher, only secondly 
a Christian. 2 Whatever be the inherent defects of this conception, 
especially as interpreted by disciples of Petrarca and other still more 
extreme humanists, 8 it cannot be said that it was either unjustifiable 
or untimely. When the Papacy had developed a Christianity from 
which liberal culture had been completely eliminated, it was not very 
wonderful that Humanism should propagate a culture in which 
Christianity was somewhat in danger of being lost. Petrarca, not- 
withstanding classical predilections, was not likely to forget religion 
as an essential part of the highest culture. But his Church was 
/ much more Catholic than that of Rome. His generous sympathies 
■comprehended in the bounds of one indivisible community all men 
who appealed to his sense of intellectual and moral worth. So far 
from orthodoxy, in the ecclesiastical sense of the term, being an im- 
portant, still less an exclusive title to human reverence, he would not 
have exchanged a page of Cicero for all the ecclesiastical writers he 
knew, with the exception perhaps of Augustine. Nor, with his strong 
feeling for truth as apart from doctrines and creeds, was he able to 
perceive the distinction between the inspiration claimed by sacred 
writers and Church councils, and the unclaimed afflatus of ancient 
heathen moralists. To him Cicero was as inspired as Augustine, 
and Seneca was on the same level with St. Paul, when uttering the 
self-same truths. Hence, in most of his works, heathen authors are 
quoted side by side with the foremost names in Christian literature, 
without the slightest perception of any difference existing either in 
the religious or literary status of the various authorities. This 
eclecticism we shall often have occasion to notice as a characteristic 



1 Com p. Burckhardt, Cultur cL Renaissance, iL p. 817. 

* Dr. Koerting, Op. cit., p. 502. 

• Comp., Voigt, Op. cit., p. 58. 



General Causes and Leaders. 1 1 7 

of our free-thinkers. Its ripest and most unreserved exponent is 
found among French Skeptics — viz. Bishop Huet of Avranches. 

Fetrarca's skeptical attitude to the beliefs of his time is not con- 
fined to Philosophy and Religion. Here his battle had been with the 
universities and the Church — in other words, with the highest specu- 
lation, and the most accredited erudition, of the age. But he extends 
the same critical incisive method to popular beliefs in their most 
seductive form of superstitions. He opposes the generally current 
and deeply rooted faith of the time in the supernatural, as manifested 
by astrology, alchymy, miracles, daemoniac possession, prodigies, 
auguries, dreams, presentiments. It is easy to conceive that this 
direction of his skepticism, though more obvious and natural to us, 
may have been far more difficult and dangerous to Fetrarca; and 
involved therefore more courage on his part, than his attacks on 
philosophy and theology. The supposed dangerous effect of Free- 
thought is not always tested by the inherent worth or dignity of the 
particular doctrine held to be impugned. Superstitions relating to 
material objects lie nearer to the affections of the vulgar than 
abstract beliefs ; and their faith, such as it is, is more undermined 
by the attempted removal of the former than by open denial of the 
latter. To the Neapolitan peasant the blood of Januarius is a 
closer and more venerated object of faith than Deity, and he would 
be more profoundly affected by its non-liquefaction than by the most 
triumphant and convincing demonstration of atheism. And, coming 
nearer home, thousands of Christians having some claim to be called 
civilized, regard with more reverence the supposed bodily presence of 
Christ in the Eucharist than His spiritual life in humanity or history. 
Fetrarca, in opposing the superstitions, was really attacking the \, 
science of his time. Astrologers were then held in the highest repute. 
They were courted by kings and princes, they occupied the chairs 
and received the endowments of learned universities. Though re- 
garded by the Church with an eye of suspicion, as rival hierophants 
and aspirants for fame and wealth, there were too many points of 
connexion between their science and mediaeval Christianity to permit 
the latter openly to oppose them. Nor, by suggesting the agency 
of daemons to account for the supposed success of diviners and 
astrologers, could the Church be said to further the cause of enlight- 
enment, unless on the principle of the Italian proverb that ' the 
greater devil always casts out the less.' Against these superstitions, 
allied with so many powerful interests, Fetrarca pleads with spirit 
and boldness. He points out that knowledge of the future is impos- 
sible, and if possible would be embarrassing. He reiterates Cicero's 
sarcasm, that a generally truthful man for a single falsehood is re- 



/ 



1 1 8 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

puted a liar, while an astrologer, though an habitual liar, is for a 
single chance coincidence reckoned a prophet. 1 

In his contest with superstitions Petrarca is not supported, as in 
his warfare with mediaeval philosophy, by the unanimous consensus 
of antiquity. No doubt his favourites, Cicero and Augustine, are on 
his side as against astrologers ; but on the other hand many of the 
Latin writers whom he valued were opposed to him on this and 
kindred subjects. Livy, e.g. was quite a repository of marvellous 
prodigies, which however Petrarca declined to accept on his authority. 
The same principle of enlightened rationalism Petrarca applies to 
dreams and presentiments. That dreams are occasionally fulfilled is 
just as little wonderful, and for the same reason, as that a diviner's 
prediction happens to turn out correct. As a crowning proof of the 
worthlessness of stellar vaticination, he instances the example of a 
court astrologer of Milan, who in an argument with Petrarca fully 
assented to his skepticism on the subject, but pleaded the necessity 
of his art as a means of getting a livelihood. 2 

The boundary line between astrology and medicine, in the four- 
teenth century, was not broad. As a rule the disciple of JEsculapius 
also cast nativities ; and his crucibles and vessels for compounding 
chemicals were further employed for purposes of alchymy. Accord- 
ing to Petrarca both were different branches of a common charla- 
tanism. With medicine indeed his feud is of a peculiarly violent 
character. He wrote to Pope Clement VI. when he was ill, bidding 
him beware of his doctors. The Pope's medical attendant, not 
relishing the intrusion of a layman into the sacred precincts of his 
profession, wrote a bitter Epistle to Petrarca, who replied in Four 
Books of In Medicum quendam Invectivarum, of the tone of which 
Tiraboschi satirically remarks, 3 that 'he cannot propound it as a 
model of philosophical moderation.' Many reasons may be assigned 
rfor Petrarca's animosity on this subject. Medicine and anatomy, like 
J all other branches of natural science, were then in the hands of the 
\ Arabs, and Petrarca had no higher opinion of the physical science 
I than he had of the metaphysics of the co-religionaries of Averroes 
. and Avicenna. His prejudice in this matter was not however justified 
by the sound judgment which directed his hostility to astrology ; for 
in Medicine, as in other cognate subjects, Arab learning was far in 

1 Comp. Ep. rer.fam., iii., Ep. 8. Opera (Basle), ii. p. 611. See also Tiraboschi, 
Staria, etc., vol. v. pt. i. p. 861. 

* Comp. De Remed. Utri. Fort., lib. I., Dial. 112. Senil., lib. I., Ep. 6, and 
particularly his letter to Boccaccio, Senil. III. Ep. 1, Opera, ii., p. 768. 

a Storia, etc., vol. v. pt. i. p. 862. For the treatise itself see the Latin works 
(Ed. Basle), p. 1081. 



General Causes and Leaders. 119 

advance of that of Christian Europe. 1 But the extent of his pre- 
judice is strikingly shown by the fact of his excepting Greek and 
Roman medicine from his classical sympathies. Of the curative 
methods of Hippokrates, he pleaded, men were ignorant, and in Galen 
he placed no faith ; and even if the doctors of medicine in the 
fourteenth century knew the methods of Hippokrates, the knowledge 
would not have availed them, for the Greek physician practised in 
another land and on men of a different race. . . . 

Another reason of Petrarca's animosity against medicine was its 
methods. Frequently these were based upon irrational dogmas and 
subjective fancies. Its professors, though really empirics, assumed a 
superciliousness of manner and an infallibility of self-assertion 
against which our free-thinker recalcitrated. In an amusing letter 
to Boccaccio * he ridicules the vanity and solemn pomposity of the 
medical men of his time — their purple robes, their rings studded 
with precious stones, their gilt spurs and other costly gear. He 
sarcastically says, that they only wanted a little of a rightful claim 
to the honour of a triumph like a Roman conqueror, for probably 
there were few among them who could boast of having slain five 
thousand men ; but what they wanted in number they compensated 
by the quality of the slaughtered; for they slew not enemies but 
fellow-citizens, and civilians, not soldiers cased in armour. We 
find Petrarca's prejudice against the medical profession expressed 
in similar invectives, by Cornelius Agrippa and Montaigne ; and the 
same feeling is shared by most of our free-thinkers down to the time 
of Moli&re. Probably there was quite enough dogmatic arrogance, 
combined with a real ignorance of their calling, to justify much of 
this feeling. As Petrarca distrusted medicine, he took care to avoid 
it. Like Moli&re, he attributed his generally vigorous health to direct 
opposition to the prescriptions and rules of the faculty. He records 
various ludicrous instances of medical fallibility, one of which hap- 
pened in his own case. Being at one time ill, his medical attendant 
professed to find his illness severe, and ventured on the unfavourable 
prognosis that he would die about midnight. Petrarca gleefully 
describes the disgust of the worthy medicus, when, paying his 
moribund patient a visit next morning, he found him seated comfort- 
ably, and hard at work, at his writing-desk. 

To jurisprudence, as another branch of mediaeval learning, Petrarca 
was unfavourably inclined. The peculiar tone of irritation in which 

1 On this subject of the contribution of the Arabs to the science of medicine, 
camp. Sedillot, Histoire QinircUe des Arabes, vol. ii. p. 72, etc., and the exhaustive 
work of Dr. L. Leclerc, Histoire de la Midecine Arabe, 2 vols. Paris, 1876. 

* Senil., lib. v. Ep. 4. Gomp. Tiraboschi, v. pt. i. p. 863. 



1 20 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

he refers to the subject seems to prove that he never forgot those 
painful studies at Montpellier and Bologna, when he was compelled 
to put aside Cicero and Virgil for Justinian and the Decretals. But 
his animadversions against legal studies are really aimed not so 
much against themselves, considered from a philosophical point of 
view, as against their misuse by unscrupulous practitioners and 
pedantic professors* His own ideas of jurisprudence were derived 
from the ancient philosophers ; and certainly were more in harmony 
with his high estimate of individual freedom than the heterogeneous 
and complex codes generally in force in Italy. 

The common centre in which these various propulsions and repul- 
sions converge is clear. They mark the humanist, the independent 
free-thinker, whose instincts and efforts are radically opposed to the 
imaginary erudition and real restrictions of his age. They constitute 
the intellectual aspects of that general affinity for freedom, which he 
manifested, politically, in his regard for Eienzi, and his approbation 
of his ill-fated enterprises. At the same time, if we possessed nothing 
more than the indirect evidence of these various tendencies, the 
precise determination of Petrarca's skepticism would have been 
difficult. The very completeness of natures like his renders a 
simple straightforward estimate of their intellectual conclusions 
impossible. Not only his intelleot, keen, eager, and comprehensive, 
but his sentiment and imagination, tender, susceptible and profound, 
had to be consulted in his determination of truth. The conflict 
between these rival tendencies is often perceptible in his works. 
What the skeptical reason abstracts is returned again in the feeling ; 
and on the other hand the definition which is lost in the vague tender- 
ness of emotion is replaced by shrewd, clear intellectualism. Bat the 
issue of the conflict — the nature of his skeptical conclusions — is not 
doubtful in Petrarca's case. We are not left to the hazard of 
indirect evidence. In more than one passage of his works, he admits, 
accounts for, and defends his skeptical position. Here, e.g. is a 
remarkable passage from his letters. ( I am not a frequenter of the 
schools, but of the woods ; a solitary wanderer, careless of sects but 
greedy of truth. Distrustful of my own faculties, lest I should be 
involved in errors, I embrace doubt itself as truth. I have thus 
gradually become an Academic ; to myself ascribing nothing, affirm- 
ing nothing, and doubting all things excepting those in which doubt 
is sacrilege. 1 1 A fuller confession of unfaith we could scarcely 



1 'Non scholasticus quidem sum; sed silvicola, soli vagus . . . sectarum 
negligent, veri appetens. . . . Seepe diffidens mei ne erroribus implicer, 
dubitationem ipeam pro veri tate amplecton Ita sensim Academicus evaei, nil 



General Causes and Leaders. 121 

expect from a man of Petrarca's sentiments, philosophical and 
religions. His donbt is explicit and comprehensive. His adoption 
of suspense, for truth, assimilates him to the most pronounced Greek 
skeptics. Even the exception of the last clause loses much of its 
weight when we remember the nature of his Christianity. The 
sacrilege he feared was a violation of his own conscience, not of 
ecclesiastical orthodoxy. We must not, however, attribute to Petrarca 
a preference for doubt, or suspense, considered as an end in itself, 
except when the principle of activity or energy is left in it, and it 
becomes, as in the case of Sokrates and others, a stimulus to inquiry. 1 
In other cases he regards it not from an absolute but from a relative 
point of view. Ignorance was his armour against the omniscience of 
scholasticism and the dogmatism of the Church, just as it was that of 
Sokrates from the sciolists and obscurantists of Athens. ( In many 
things, 7 says Petrarca, speaking of the vaunted wisdom of the schools, 
( Ignorance is the highest knowledge — the commencement of all 
science.' We have already noticed how even the secular science of 
his time was tainted with the assumed infallibility derived from 
association with the Church. How Popes and priests, schoolmen and 
professors, magicians and diviners, astrologists and alchymists vied 
with each other in the assumption of universal and indisputable know- 
ledge. With his wider insight and profounder studies, this arrogance 
irritated Petrarca. His encomium of ignorance, as opposed to this 
proud science, is contained in his work, Of his own Ignorance and 
that of many others, one of the most noteworthy of his writings. 
This work was occasioned by the following incident. Petrarca has 
been criticised by a jury of friends. After an impartial investigation, 
they concede to him certain advantages, great renown, influential 
patrons, and other blessings of various kinds, but their final verdict 
is that ' Though a good man, he is very ignorant.' * Petrarca accepts 
the judgment in good part. Sokrates himself could hardly have been 
more pleased when the Delphic oracle commended his nescience. 
Nevertheless Petrarca takes occasion to examine the pretended know- 
ledge, not only of his judges, but of other dogmatists as well. The 
result is a conviction that his own ignorance, which he admits to be 
profound, is largely shared by his fellow men. His superiority to 
others is Sokratic, and consists in the recognition of a truth to which 
they are blind. Besides, the verdict of his friends is further correct, 
for it describes the aim of his whole life, which is to be virtuous 

mihi tribuens, nil affirmans, dubitansque de singulis nisi de quibus dubitaro 
sacrilegium reor.' — Ep. Rerum SeniL, I., Ep. 5, Op., torn. ii. p. 745. 

1 Comp. De Kerned: Utri. Fort., I., Dial 12, Op. 1, p. 9. 

f Scilicet me sine Uteris virum bonum. — Op., vol. ii. p. 1089. 



122 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

rather than wise. 1 And here we touch upon another of those prin- 
ciples of Petrarca's character which engendered, and which he 
employs to compensate for, his advocacy of Free-thought. Besides 
recognizing search for wisdom as noble in itself, he points out 
the superiority of action to speculation, of virtue to learning. What- 
ever may be said of this theme, when examined closely by his own 
life and predilections, few subjects in his works are treated more 
effusively. No doubt the lesson, besides being common to most 
thinkers of a destructive type, was then needed with a peculiar 
urgency. Scholastic philosophy and ecclesiastical orthodoxy both 
insisted on the priority of doctrine over practice. The whole pro- 
gress of mediaeval thought had been in this direction. ' Believe as 
we tell you,' said the clergy, ' that is all that is necessary. ' ' Receive 
our axioms and ratiocinations/ said the schoolman, ' and you will then 
, attain wisdom. 7 ' Not so,' rejoined Petrarca. ' Wisdom is not to be 
liound in speculation, whether of the Church or the schools. It con- 
\ /sists in the cultivation of virtue, in the practical discharge of duties 
| to God and man. Speculation is often deceived. It is as manifold in 
* I quality as philosophers are many in number. It tends to create skepti- 
\ cism. On the other hand virtue and holiness are liable to none of these 
\doubts and vacillations. Whatever else is uncertain, their intrinsic 
excellence is assured. They are ultimate certainties, independent 
of all human judgments and opinions. It cannot be denied that 
Petrarca is here a true precursor of the Reformation, one who would 
fain have restored to the Christian Church the original law of its 
Founder. 

But there is another aspect of Petrarca's skepticism, as there is 
f another and most important side to his character ; for he is not only 
^ a philosopher, and a rationalist, but also a mystic, and an ascetic. 
While, therefore, in his former capacity, he takes refnge from intel- 
lectual puzzles by adopting a position of confessed ignorance, he 
manifests, as a mystic, his restless tendencies, by contrasting all the 
conceivable antagonisms which pertain to the lot of humanity. He 
is thus possessed with that antithetical equilibrating instinct which 
marks so many free-thinkers; and which, when fully developed, results 
in the intellectual deadlock of two-fold truth. The work which he 
devotes to this subject is entitled De remediis utriusque Fortunm. 
It reflects clearly, as Professor Bartoli remarks, ' the perpetual 
antitheses between which the mind of the writer fluctuates.' 2 
In the first Book, ' Hope ' and ' Joy ' on the one side contend with 

1 See the solemn invocation of Omniscience as a witnesss for the truth of 
this protestation, Op. cit, ii. p. 1039. 
f J Primi due Seccli, etc., p. 462. 



General Causes and Leaders. 123 

1 Reason ' on the other. The former alleging all the joyous, pleasure- 
able and promising aspects of existence, while Reason retorts by 
ruthlessly presenting the opposing aspect in each case, and by a 
lugubrious ringing of the changes on pain, grief, disappointment, 
disease and death. In the second Book, ' Fear ' and ' Pain ' hold 
briefs for the ills of humanity, but are again encountered by the same 
mocking Reason, who endeavours to prove that they are not evils, 
but benefits. The theoretical conclusion of the book is pessimism, 
with asceticism as its practical corollary. Petrarca finds nothing 
more fragile, nothing more unquiet than existence. The mood is one 
to which he gives expression in several of his works, as e.g. in the 
De Vita Solitaria. Its most developed form is contained in the De 
Contemptu Mundi, a work which he calls his secret ; and on which I 
have shortly a few remarks to make. 

But the mysticism which formed so large a part of Petrarca's 
nature has another and more commonly recognized presentation. 
And here we come to the Petrarca of the Rime : here also we touch 
upon the vexed question of Laura, whose name is so closely con- 
nected with his in the romance of European literature. Her actual 
existence, and complete identity, is now granted by most Petrarchist 
scholars, since the publication of De Sade's work. 1 Her family, 
parentage, husband, children, the chief events of her life are chroni- 
cled with the dry particularity of a Registrar's return. But there 
remains an element in the question only partially solved : the extent 
and manner of the idealization, or as Professor De Sanctis calls it, 
'The transfiguration of Laura.' 3 What was the form in which 
Petrarca conceived the object of his passionate adoration after death ? 
Partly, no doubt, she was deified. The vision of Laura was to her 
lover, while on earth, what the celestial vision of God would be to 
him in eternity : — 8 

' Siccome eterna vita e veder Dio, 
Ni piu si bra ma, nl tramar piu lice, 
Cosi me, donna, il voi veder, felice 
Fa in questo breve e f rale viver mio ' : 

Partly she was beatified, conceived as a model of womanly purity, an- 
other Madonna. 4 Partly also she came to symbolize Intellectual Beauty, 

1 The most recent oppugner of De Sade's theory is Dr. Koerting in his 
Leben und Werke, p. 694, etc. 

1 Saggio critico sul Petrarca di F. de Sanctis, chap. ix. p. 122. 

* Comp. Fiorentino, Scritti Varii, p. 122. 

4 In the De Contemptu Mundi Augustine sneers at Petrarca's estimate of 
Laura. ( Nihil enim adversabor, sit regina, sit sancta, sit Dea certe. 

An Phoebi soror, an Nympharum sanguinis una ? '—Op., I. p. 854. 



1 24 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

or Truth. Petrarca's passion, with all its overcharged sentiment, 
and its undoubtedly sensuous character, has also a large admixture 
of intellectualism. Laura, the unattainable object of his youthful as- 
piration, became the symbol of other unattained desires, e.g. undoubted 
Truth, unalloyed happiness. She sums up the illusive, unrealized 
character of so many objects and pursuits, philosophical, political, 
literary, social and religious by which he had been in life so strongly 
attracted, but of which he had ascertained by bitter experience the 
unsatisfying character. It is only by remembering this intense ideali- 
zation of what at first was a very ordinary passion that we can attach 
any real meaning to some parts of his Canzoniere. Take e.g. the sonnet 
in which he relates that walking one day on the side of the Liguria, 
and perceiving a laurel bush, he ran so eagerly to inspect it closer, in 
remembrance of Laura, that he did not perceive a ditch lying in the 
way, into which he fell ; or the passage in which he says the sun, 
being jealous of Laura's regard for her lover, when she turned her 
back to his light, immediately enveloped himself in clouds. Speaking 
of intellectual truth or beauty we can understand and appreciate 
such metaphors. Over eagerness in the chase for truth has led many 
of its lovers into a pitfall ; and the spiritual light of truth might 
not only challenge the physical light of the sun, but even claim a 
superiority. This conception of Laura as an ideal which unified his 
various aspirations after truth, fame, beauty, freedom, also serves 
to explain what, on the theory that the mere woman was the sole 
object of his passion, must seem inexplicable. I allude to his inter- 
course with the poor unfortunate who was the mother of his children 
during the precise period when most of his sonnets were written. 1 
Either the Laura of those highly wrought productions must have 
been an ideal personage, or her lover was a profligate beneath con- 
tempt. 8 

Laura's death imparted a new direction, a profounder intensity to 
this idealization. Petrarca now learns, definitively, that his lifelong 
quest, his hopes and desires, only held him in suspense. 

* Tenner molt anni in dubbio il mio desire.' 

Whatever he may have once pretended, he is now persuaded that the 
object of his passion is not to be realized on earth. 



1 Comp. Mezieres, Pitrarque, chap. iv. See also Villari, Macchiavelli, Eng. 
Trans., i. pp. 115, 116. 

* Compare his reply to Augustine in the third Dial, of De Contemptu Mundi, 
when he charges him with the base nature of his love. 'Ego enim nihil 
unquam turpe, imo vero nisi pulcherrimum amasse me recolo. 1 Op., i. p. 853. 



General Causes and Leaders. 125 

' Quella ch' io cerco e non ritrovo in terra.' 

Laura herself warns her lover of the same truth. 

' Mio hen non cape in in telle tto umano 
Spirito ignudo sono, e in ciel mi godo 
Quel che tu cerchi e terra gia molti anni.' 

But Petrarca not only appreciates the disillusionizing effect of * Laura 
in heaven/ but he also perceives the stimulus and excitation induced 
by his earthly passion. He refuses to call his love an error ; at least, 
if it be an error, it is one from which he will not be willingly parted. 1 
He intends to cherish it as long as he lives. Thus he comes to admit 
the mental value of that long trial of unrealized passion. He finds 
it better to be spared the rueful experience of ' love's sad satiety.' 
He begins to perceive that, for man as he is constituted, with infinite v 
desires and finite means of gratification, fruition is not the supremest j 
good. His ' Suspense of passion ' has therefore produced the same / 
results as intellectual doubt and uncertainty. It has prompted to 
further and fuller effort, and made him find his happiness in that 
effort. 3 This, it seems to me, is one great lesson of Petrarca's Rime, 
and of his relation to Laura. Nor, in passing, is it unimportant to 
point out how the same feeling of pure aspiration underlies most of 
the skeptical truth-seeking of the Renaissance. It is at the bottom of, 
and gives a substantial value to, Dante's Beatrice-worship. It colours 
much of the idealizations and imaginative desires of the poets of 
chivalry, Ariosto and Boiardo. It may be detected even under the 
grinning mask of Pulci ; and the animalism of Boccaccio serves to dis- 
guise rather than hide the same sacra fames for the unattainable. 
A like feeling prompted the passionate reverence of the Renaissance 
for the intellectual and artistic beauty revealed by works of antiquity. 
But in its highest, most passionate, most self-devouring form we have 
it in Giordano Bruno, whose expressive words ' per amor de la vera 
sapienza, e studio de la vera contemplatione m' affatico, mi cruccio, e 
mi tormento,' may well pair off with Petrarca's well-known line : — 

' Mille piacer non valgono un tormento.' 

1 Comp. Opera, i. p. 858. Fiorentino, Scritti Vdrii, p. 121, and on the whole 
question see Prof. Bartoli's chap. ( L'Amore del Petrarca,' in 1 Primi due Secoli, 
etc., p. 491. 

1 It is interesting to note the different forms of idealization of Beatrice by 
Dante and Laura by Petrarca. In harmony with Dante's dogmatic instincts, 
Beatrice is transformed into a symbolical image of Theology, and an authori- 
tative expounder of dogmas. While Laura, in accordance with her lover's 
freer tendencies, becomes to him the beatified type of unrealized aspiration. 



126 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Whatever the form the desire takes, whether art, love, nature, truth, 
God, it is characterized by the same features of painful weariness and 
intense eagerness : in Shelley's words 

' The desire of the moth for the star, 

Of the night for the morrow, 
The devotion to something afar 
From the sphere of our sorrow.' 

Nor is this final conception of a beatified Laura unimportant taken 
in connexion with Petrarca's mystic pessimism. The extreme form 
of this feeling I have already glanced at ; but in his De contemptu 
Mundi it almost verges on Nihilism. This work, no doubt, reflects 
the strife between the asceticism of mediaeval Christianity and the 
naturalism of the Renaissance ; but its deeper significance seems to 
me to consist in the additional motive for the ' Contempt of the World ' 
furnished by the failure of his aspirations for love, for fame and for 
truth. In this respect Petrarca may be likened to other skeptics 
(Bishop Huet, e.g.) who looked forward to a future existence for that 
demonstrated truth they were unable to find in this. 1 Thus, to 
Petrarca, his aspiration seemed the path leading from earth to heaven ; 
his earthly love had taught him what heavenly love meant; and his 
desire of human fame led him to aspire for divine. Hence the ' Welt- 
schmerz ' of Petrarca is not in reality the unintellectual, obscurantist, 
half-brutish contempt of the world which characterizes the cloistral 
literature of the middle ages. No doubt he feels 

* The heavy and the weary weight 
Of all this unintelligible world.' 

But the feeling does not induce despair, nor does it hinder research. 
Indeed, it may well be doubted whether it really occupied such a 
large place in his mind as his works appear to suggest. 8 Throughout 
his life Petrarca was a searcher, and his search transcends the grave, 
which he terms ' the exit from his labyrinth. 7 The spiritualized 
and intellectual Laura, whom he says s he really loved on earth, he 

1 Comp. on this point Profe8aor Bartoli: 'Nella sua irrequietezza, nell' 
ondeggiare contiiiuo tra due estremi, nell' aspirare incessantemente alle 
serenita del paradiso, e nel non trovare mai che le agitazioni dell' inferno ; 
nell' eterno dissidio con se medesimo : in questo sta, se io non m' inganno, il 
fondo vero del carattere del Petrarca.' — J Primi due Secoli delta Letteratura 
ItaL, p. 442. 

* Comp. e.g. the numerous passages on this point accumulated hy Prof. 
Bartoli. I Primi due Secoli, etc., pp. 442, 448, notes. 

8 De Contemptu Mundi, Dial, iii., Op. i. 854. 4 Neque enim ut putas, mortali 
rei animum addixi, ne me tarn corpus noveris amasse quam animam moribus 



General Causes and Leaders. 127 

expects to find in heaven. The truth and beauty for which he here 
sighed in vain he may discover there. The glory of his earthly yearn- 
ing may be the prelude to immortality. 

It is time to sum up my remarks on Petrarca. As the first of the 
Italian Humanists he has a claim on our consideration second only \ 
to that of Pomponazzi. He is, as we have seen, a free-thinker, and / 
a confessed skeptic. Freedom of every kind, political, literary, 
religious, was for him an absolute necessity. Sometimes his passion 
for it led him into difficulties, as e.g. when he sided so enthusiastically 
with the ill-advised attempt of Rienzi. To him it appeared a noble 
enterprise, having liberty for its object ; and sanctioned by the needs 
of the present as well as hallowed by the glories of the past. No 
doubt Petrarca, to quote the authoress of Corinne, i mistook reminis- 
cences for anticipations ; ' but the mistake was founded upon, and 
attested, a fervent passion for liberty. 

Petrarca's immense influence on his own age, as well as on subse- 
quent times cannot be denied. When himself and Boccaccio formed the 
neucleus of a literary society at Florence, the town became a centre 
of literary interests and animated discussion ; which was a foretaste 
of its cultured eminence under the Medici. If all this Renaissance- 
fermentation was not productive of much lasting work it was at least \ 
full of promise for the future. Petrarca and his fellow Humanists j 
conferred an enormous service by merely spreading the knowledge,^ 
they had acquired of the works and thoughts of the ancients. It 
was important, in days when literature was confined in a great 
measure to the few who were able to buy MSS., that the results of 
their investigations should be known as widely and as speedily as 
possible. The circle of Petrarca's classical knowledge has been *^\ 
recently investigated by Dr. Koerting with a masterly completeness J 
not as yet equalled by any Italian or French Petrarchist. 1 The ser- 
vices rendered by our free-thinker to the cause of European enlight- 
enment are, as Dr. Koerting points out, to be measured by the new 
materials he excavated from the quarry of classical learning, not by 
his methods and interpretations, considered from the standpoint of the 
nineteenth century. It is quite easy, as the same writer remarks, to " 
discover and marshal in formidable array the errors of Petrarca's 
classical scholarship. But the task would be ungenerous and would 

humana transcendentibus delectatum, quorum exemplo, qualiter inter ceeli- 
colas vivatur admoneo,' and passim. 

1 Petrarca's Leben und Werke, chap. viii. ' Der Umfang des Wissens Pe- 
trarca's,' pp. 458-514. Com p. on Dr. Koerting's work the appreciative Review 
of Pro! Zumbini in Nuova Anlalogia, Feb. 1st, 1879, p. 560. The learned 
reviewer calls the 8th chapter the most novel and valuable portion of the work. 



128 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

merely serve to confirm the truth of the German proverb, ' When 
kings build, carters readily find employment.' l 

After all, Petrarca's chief glory is the noble stand he made against 
mediae valism, against its philosophy, against its dogma, its false 
'-y f science, its gross superstition. He was thus a philosophical Protes- 
^ [ tant, who took Cicero's Works for his authority, instead of St. Paul's 
\ vEpistles. Perhaps the tolerant and semi-Pagan culture he advocated 
was more suited to his time and country than an austerer substitute 
for Papal Christianity would have been. If he did not, as I have 
said, care to assume the part of an active Reformer, he was quite 
capable of the mental independence pertaining to such a function. 
We may say of him, more than of Dante, that his strong individualism, 
the indomitable self-assertion that prompted and sustained his sever- 
ance from mediaeval thought, was the greatest boon he could then 
have conferred on humanity. Medievalism implies, as we know, 
parties, communities, sects, companies and guilds. Isolated thought 
or action was liable to be branded as a crime. Only men of 
/ vigorous intellectual fibre, and calm self-concentration, were able to 
' [ stand aloof from the confederate crowds, and avow their resolve, as 
I Petrarca did, to swear by no master in philosophy and secular learn- 
ing, 2 and in religion to bow to no authority but that of conscience. 



V 



. Proceeding with our biographical illustrations of the 

Free-thought of the Renaissance, we come in due course 
to Boccaccio. Probably the work in all Italian literature which is 
the most popular, and best known, exponent of the skepticism of the 
fourteenth century is the Qecdmeron of Boccaccio. For our purpose, 
that writer may stand as Hhe litterateur of the humanistic move- 
ment. Not that Boccaccio was himself a skeptic, or, on philosophical 
p- grounds, even a free-thinker. There was always an element of weak- 
y ness, and even of superstition, in his character ; and towards the end 
V of his life he became a devotee. In this respect he contrasted greatly 
with his friend Petrarca, whose mind was of a far firmer texture ; 
and whose free-thought, notwithstanding his profession, was of a 
more fearless and independent character. Nevertheless Boccaccio 
contributed more than either Dante or Petrarca to advancing free- 
culture as a popular movement ; while as to the effect of his works 
on the formation of the Italian language, he ranks next to those two 
giants — the three forming a trio unique in the history of literature. 

1 Koerting, Op. cit., p. 518. 

* He quotes with approval Horace's dictum, 

4 Nullius add ictus jurare in verba Magistri. 1 Op. Lat, ii. p. 1051. 



General Causes and Leaders. 1 29 

The author of the Decameron was born a.d. 1313. His father was 
a serious and unfeeling Florentine merchant, his mother a lively and 
affectionate Parisienne. Hence Dr. Landau * happily applies to him 
Goethe's lines — 

1 Vom Vater haV ich die Statur 
Des Lebens ernstes Ftthren ; 
Vom Mutterchen die Frohnatur 
Und Lust zu fabuliren.' 

The unhappy fate of his much-loved mother forms the subject of one 
of his tales. After a few years' elementary instruction in Latin, 
Boccaccio was taken from school, and compelled by his father to pre- 
pare for the irksome calling of a merchant to which he had destined 
him. But instead of attending to his ledgers and invoices, his time 
was wholly taken up with making verses and studying Dante. 9 At 
last his father, despairing of the conversion of the young poetic 
enthusiast into a man of business, sent him to Naples to study the 
Canon-law. But this was almost as arid an occupation as the per- 
petual contemplation of the rows of figures in his father's ledgers. 
His residence at Naples was however of immense importance in the 
development of his character, both as a man and as a poet. Dante 
introduced him to the literature, Naples to the life of the Renais- 
sance. There he became acquainted with a court and society whose 
immoral laxity is depicted in imperishable colours in the pages of 
the Decameron. It was also fruitful as the commencement of his 
literary career, for at Naples he composed his earlier poetry and tales. 
Boccaccio, it was evident, was not destined to achieve fame by the 
study of the Decretals any more than he was to acquire wealth in a 
merchant's office. Incidentally, perhaps, his readings in jurisprudence 
served to complete his education, by enlarging his acquaintance with 
Latin authors, and confirming his taste for the ' sacra filosofia ' of 
Pagan culture. After a few years his father's death left him to his 
own devices, to pursue the calling of poet and literateur for which 
Nature had so indisputably designed him. 8 

1 See his Giovanni Boccaccio seine Leben und seine Werke, Stuttgart, 1877, 
p. 3. 

* Compare what he says of himself in the Corbaccio (Op. Vclg. y v. p. 185) : 
1 Gli studi adunque alia sacra filosofia pertinenti infino dalla tua puerizia piu 
assai che il too padre non avrebbe voluto te piacquero, e massimente in quella 
parte che a poesia appartiene, nella quale per avventura tu hai con piu 
fervore <T animo ohe con altezaa d' ingegno seguita.' Comp. Baldelli, Vita, p. 15. 

* F. Villani, in his Vile <T uomini Ulustri (p. 9), has a story, bristling with 
improbabilities, of Boccaccio's receiving his first impulse in the direction of 
classical poetry at the grave of Virgil, when he was twenty -eight years of 

VOL. I. K 



i 

\ 
i 

'lit 



n - 



1 30 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Among the influences which contributed to form the character of 
Boccaccio, and which impelled and sustained him in his free-thinking 
course, no small place must be assigned to his friendship with Pe- 
trarca. Few literary friendships could be more pure and genial, less 
alloyed by selfishness or disturbed by misunderstandings than this. 
The great Humanist was then in the zenith of his fame, the courted 
and admired of all the foremost among European potentates. Boc- 
caccio was the comparatively unknown author of a few tales and 
poetical pieces. The actual relation, under the circumstances, was, no 
doubt, that between a loving master and an attached disciple, rather • 
than between two literary stars of nearly the same magnitude. Yet 
+ between the two men sprang up an intimacy and mutual regard des- 
\^ tined to last beyond the grave. Both men were, in truth, animated 
by the same thirst for knowledge, the same devotion to ancient litera- 
ture. Both were pioneers in the same tacit undertaking. Both aimed 
at freeing the human intellect and conscience from the thraldom of 
scholasticism. Both possessed, though in unequal degrees, the same 
feeling of literary independence. 1 To use Petrarca's expressive words, 
when he urged his friend to take up his abode in his house, they were 
two men ' unum cor habentes, 1 i sharing a single heart.' 3 

Boccaccio's earlier works do not contain much for our purpose, nor 
is their literary value great. Still they indicate the lines of free- 
thought which converge and culminate in the Decameron. At some 
period of his earlier life he must have studied the different collections 
of tales and adventures, legends of chivalry, romance, etc., which 
formed the popular literature of the fourteenth century. A diligent 
investigation of the sources whence he derived the materials for the 
Decameron, as well as for his minor works, shows us that his re- 
searches in that department extended over a wide field. 8 Bouterwek 
supposes that he found time for this ' novel reading ' when he was 
imprisoned at a merchant's desk. However that may be, the predomin- 
ant agency in the evolution of his liberal culture seems to me to 
have been classical. This is proved as well by his association with 
Petrarca, as by his own earlier works, especially by the earliest of 
them, Filocopo. In reality this is a Pagan love-tale, imitated and 
expanded to a wearisome length, from the old French B^mance of 

age ! Comp. Mazzuckelli's note on the passage (p. 75), and see Voigt, Wieder- 
belebung, etc. p. 104. 

1 C' nip. Mazzuchelli, on Villani, p. 82. 

* His words are 'Sum vero cui uni tantum suppetit, quantum abunde 
suffioiat duobus unum cor habentibus, atque unam domum.' 

8 This subject is f ully discussed in Dr. Landau's Die Quellen des Decamerone, 
Wien, 1869. 



General Causes and Leaders. 131 

Florio and Blanchflower. The characters and environment are those 
of heathen antiquity. Christianity, as a distinctive creed, can hardly 
be said to exist in its pages. At most it is only an insignificant appan- 
age of Pagandom. The deities who govern the world are those of 
Olympus, and are mostly invested with their classical personalities 
and attributes; though sometimes, in the customary Renaissance 
manner, they become personifications of virtues and vices, and their 
names equivalents for the persons of the Christian Trinity. Christ is 
called the Son of Jupiter ; l Pluto is the fallen Lucifer ; the Pope, 
it is difficult to say why, is transformed from the Vicegerent of 
Christ to the Vicar of Juno, and the goddess reveals her wishes to 
him by means of Iris, as if he were a hero of Homeric story. All the 
Olympians are decorated with Christian titles. Jupiter is the omni- 
potent King of the Universe. Juno, Venus, Mars, and Neptune, with 
the other divinities have the epithet * Saint ' prefixed to their names. 
Florio, the love-struck hero of the tale, implores the help of ' Saint 
Venus,' and solicits her intercession with her son Cupid, in nearly the 
same terms as a devout Catholic might have used in addressing the 
Madonna. The same epithet ( Saint' is prefixed to the works and 
teaching of the ancients, thus we find ' the Holy Books of Ovid,' ' the 
sacred principles of Pythagoras/ etc. The hero of Boccaccio's story 
is finally converted to Christianity by a monk Hilarius, who, in his 
summary of Christian history and doctrine, places on precisely the 
same level the dogmas of the Church and the most puerile legends of 
heathen antiquity or ecclesiastical history. * 

Though the style of the JFHlocopo, as of his other minor works, is 
far inferior in artistic simplicity, in clearness and point, and in 
delicate humour and sarcasm, to that of the Decameron, it possesses 
situations which vividly recall those of the later work. Especially is 
this the case with the 4th Book which describes a supposed ' Court of 
Love ' held at Naples. Here the scenery and environment, the in- 
cidents and the language,* closely resemble those of the Decameron, 

1 See the work itself, passim in vols. vii. and viii. of the Opere Volgari, and 
Comp. Dr. Landau's summary, Giovanni Boccaccio, etc., 48-58. 

* See Hilarius's exposition, which may be referred to as illustrating the 
elementary teaching, both Biblical and classical, of the fourteenth century. 
Boccaccio, Op, Vclg. y voL viii. p. 909, etc., etc. 

8 Here e.g. are sentences which might be paralleled by numerous passages 
in the Decameron, ' Era gia Apollo col carro della luce salito al meridiano 
cerchio, e quasi con diritto occhio riguardava \o. riyestita terra, quando le 
donne e i giovani in quel luogo adunati lasciato il festeggiare, per diverse 
parti del giardino cercando dilettevoli ombre e divers i diletti per diverse 
schiere prendevano, f uggendo il caldo acre che i dilicati corpi offendeva,' etc., 
etc.— Op. Volg., viii. pp. 81-32. 



v 



132 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

and may possibly have supplied the germ of the more famous work. 
But however this may be, the Filocopo, which occupied its author for 
some years, may be taken as indicating the direction of Boccaccio's 
training under the influence of Petrarca ; and we find in it a clue to 
much of the humanistic comprehensiveness, the tolerance and free- 
thought which are distinguishing attributes of the Decameron. 1 

Passing now to this master work of Boccaccio's, the circumstances 
which originated it represent forcibly the thought and social manners 
of Italy in the middle of the fourteenth century. A company of 
high-born youths and maidens, terrified by the ravages of the Black 
Death then devastating Florence, agree to retire into the country and 
to solace their seclusion by the enjoyment of lovely scenery, story- 
telling, feasting, music and dancing. There seems to me a curious 
and not uninstructive parallel between this supposed origin of a work 
destined to become the vade meeum of the Renaissance, and the real 

^ genesis of that great movement. In either case there was an aban- 
'doment of a city of the dead, for more wholesome and uninfected 
localities. Men were leaving the mortuary of the middle ages, with 
its livid corpse-like forms of superstitions and corruptions, its science 
stunted by ignorance, its Christianity eaten into by dogma and 
sacerdotalism, and were commencing a new life under the benigner 
influences of Humanism and Naturalism, of reason and of culture. 
The transition is marked in imperishable characters by the contrast 
which Boccaccio draws between the loathsome city in which religion, 
morality, friendship, decency and whatever else could give value to 
human life having perished, were lying unburied like so many fester- 
ing corpses, and ( il luogo sopra una piccola montagnetta, da ogni 
parte lontano alquanto a lie nostre strade, di varii albuscelli e piante 
tutte di verdi fronde ripieno, piacevoli a riguardare.' * The ' piccola 
montagnetta ' of the Decameron might almost be regarded as a Pisgah 

* height whence Boccaccio obtained a glimpse of the Promised Land, 
into the possession of which Italy and Europe were then entering. 
But if the occasion of the work suggests these affinities to the epoch 
that gave it birth, from an ethical standpoint it reveals the heartless- 
ne8S and irreligion of the same period. Never was there a more start- 
ling illustration of the Epicurean maxims 'Carpe diem,' 'Let us 
eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,' than that furnished by the 
behaviour of Boccaccio's heroes and heroines. That such a course of 

1 Com p. Landau, Qio. Boc. y p. 48. Dr. Landau also regards the Filostrato, 
Ninfale Fiesolano, and Fiammetta as preparatory exercises in language, tone 
and subject to the Decameron. 

* lntr. to Decameron (the text of which is here quoted from vols. i.-v. of 
Moutier's Edition of the Opere Volgati), vol. i. p. 82. 



General Causes and Leaders. 133 

conduct, such an exaltation of selfishness, such a flagrant forget ful- 
ness of the prime principles of Christianity, should have been 
depicted by a writer certainly well acquainted with the ordinary 
motives by which men and women of the time were guided, shows 
us how far religion and duty had ceased to be effective agencies in 
human conduct. Remembering the circumstances of the time, the 
behaviour of the chief personages of the Decameron assumes the 
aspect of a veritable dance of death. We are reminded of the reck- 
lessness, the absolute want of fellow feeling which characterized the 
Athenian Plague, as described by Thucydides. Curiously enough, 
Boccaccio describes almost in the words of the Greek historian, or of 
his Roman imitator, the effects of the pestilence in producing a feel- 
ing of debasing selfishness ; but it never seems to strike him, if we 
except the somewhat halting apology contained in the Introduction, 
that the occasion of his work is also a case in point. 

What we might thus call the plot of the Decameron is a fitting 
vestibule to the book itself. This is redolent of Free-thought pass- 
ing into licence, of independence of judgment not always restrained 
by discretion, of skepticism too spontaneous and unregulated to be 
philosophical, of an irreligion degenerating into impiety, and of a 
naturalism whose occasional excess becomes unhuman and so far un- 
natural. Allowance must of course be made for the circumstances 
among which the work was engendered. Petrarca justified its free 
tone on account of the youth of the author, though his biographers 
have shown that Boccaccio was about forty years of age when he com- 
posed it. Other writers seem to make it the accidental outcome of 
the social demoralization effected by the Plague. 1 That something 
may be said for the latter view I have already admitted. Taken as 
a whole, the work bears the indelible impress of its terrible sur- 
roundings. It reminds one of a landscape whose foreground is lit up 
with brilliant sunshine, but which is curtained behind with a heavy 
bank of purple and livid thunder-clouds. Amid the gaiety and 
jocund humour, the amusing adventures, and the reckless enjoyment 
of life, of the tales ; the plague-stricken city of Florence looms in the 
background like a spectral abode of Dis and the Furies. Boccaccio 
spreads his intellectual feast, he artistically arranges his gold and 
silver vessels, he prepares his choicest and most delicate viands, but 
the table-cover which supports them is, in reality, a funeral pall. 
With almost a single stroke of the pen he paints the confusion of the 
time, when he tells how the wild animals so long unhunted had lost 
all fear of man. That the demoralization thus strikingly indicated 

1 Com p. Dr. Landau, Gio. Boc., p. 128. 



1 34 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

should have extended to man, and infected more or less his concep- 
tions of religion and duty, is scarcely to be wondered at. Neverthe- 
less we must, on a complete view of the subject, ascribe the tone and 
temper of the work to other and more general causes than the social 

^ disturbance produced by the Black Death. In reality the Decameron 
is a genuine outcome of the Renaissance —the free movement of 
thought and life experienced in Italy for the two preceding cen- 
turies. It is the third link in the literary chain of which the first 
two consists of the Divina Commoedia of Dante and the Rime of 
Petrarca. No doubt ' la moritifera pestilenza ' intensified for the 
time causes already in operation. The liberation of thought, initiated 
by new intellectual life and by a reaction against ecclesiastical 
thraldom, became temporarily merged in the social and moral dis- 
organization caused by the Plague. Regarding the work as a popular 
exponent of an age of so much thought-fermentation, it is a little 
surprising to find in it an almost entire absence of any intellec- 

^ tual or speculative interest. The company are almost as devoid of 
serious thought, or reflection, as if they were children. A serene 
air of optimism prevades much of the work which is in the grimmest 
possible contrast with its melancholy surroundings. The principle 
which Voltaire applied with bitter irony to the Earthquake of Lisbon, 
i.e. l This is the best of all possible worlds/ is received with 
acquiescence by Dioneo, Fiammetta, and their companions in circum- 
stances just as terrible and just as provocative of recalcitrant 
skepticism ; and their resolution to l eat, drink, and be merry/ is the 
practical outcome of their opinion. Even Voltaire's ridicule of the 
ordinary theories of Providence might almost have been justified at 
such a season. It had at least the merit of being an exercise of 
reason on the problems of the universe, whereas Boccaccio's heroes 
and heroines act and think as if their laissez /aire Epicureanism 
were an adequate solution of all such enigmas. No doubt the form 
of the book precludes anything like a reasoned investigation of truth, 
even if Boccaccio's intellect were equal to the task ; but he does not 
approach, even incidentally and lightly, as e.g. Montaigne does in his 

fEs&ais, a philosophical estimate of truth and the bases on which it is 
grounded. The skepticism of the Decameron y in short, is literary and 
popular rather than philosophical and scientific, as was that of Pom- 
ponazzi. Engendered by an opposition to ecclesiastical dogma, it is 
- rather negative than positive ; at least its limits are never accurately 
determined. The principles to which Boccaccio appealed and by 
which he required that the dogmas of the Church and every other 
form of authoritative truth should be tested, were no more recondite 
\ ones than reason, nature, common sense, the social instincts and the 



General Causes and Leaders. 135 

interests of humanity. We have the keynote of the book in one of 
those casual remarks, which, as Shelley has pointed out, Boccaccio 
often employs to express things which have serious meanings. 1 It is 
Pampinea'8 address when she expounds and justifies the plan of the 
Decameron. ' Donne mie care, voi potete cosl come io molte volte avere 
udito chi a niuna persona fa ingiuria chi onestamente usa la sua 
ragioni : 8 words which strikingly indicate both the negative concep- 
tion of human duty and the appeal to the individual reason, or con- 
science, which are distinguishing features of the Decameron. 
Boccaccio like his Master, Petrarca, and in a lesser degree like Dante, 
asserted human knowledge, judgment and independence, as the 
antagonistic principles of excessive and unprincipled dogma. Nor 
indeed was it necessary, for the popular object of the Decameron, to 
enter upon a systematic exposition of skepticism, and the foundations 
of valid belief. What is called a reformation, or a modification, over 
a wide area of popular thought is rather a result than a process. The 
latter, consisting of the operation of hidden and subtle agencies, is 
passed before the change itself becomes manifest. Thus it was with 
the Renaissance, as typified by the Decameron. The human con- 
science in Italy had already assumed an attitude of dogmatic negation. 
It had already determined on the impassable gulf between morality 
and Roman Christianity. It did not require a mathematical demon- 
stration of the absurdity e.g. of image and relic worship, or a delibe- 
rate insistence on the intolerable abuses to which other Romanist 
dogmas were exposed. That Papal Christianity was an evil had 
become a foregone conclusion, even among those who could not see 
how it was to be remedied. All that Italian free-thinkers needed 
was a statement of their unbelief in the most emphatic terms. This 
the Decameron provided. Tacitly, and incidentally, it was a col- 
lection of popular convictions on the subject-matter of Romanist 
dogmas. This fact explains the immediate and enormous popularity 
of the work in Italy itself. What Italians had hitherto derived in 
a great measure from foreign sources, from Provencal poetry, French 

1 Shelley's opinion of Boccaccio, whom he preferred to Ariosto and Tasso, 
seeius worth quoting : ' How mnch do I admire Boccaccio ! What descriptions 
of nature are those in his little introductions to every new day ! It is the 
morning of life stripped of that mist of familiarity which makes it obscure to 
us. Boccaccio seems to me to have possessed a deep sense of the fair ideal of 
human life considered in its social relations. His more serious theories of love 
agree especially with mine. He often expresses things lightly too, which 
have serious meanings of a very beautiful kind. He is a moral casuist, the 
opposite of the Christian, stoical, ready-made and worldly system of moral*,' 
etc. See Mr. Symond's monograph on Shelley, p. 111. 

* Intro, to Decam., Op. Volg., i. 24. 



136 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

fabliaux, and Eastern legends, they had now in their own purest 
Tuscan dialect. The Decameron was the text book of Renaissance 
skepticism. Nor was it only their doctrines that Italians dis- 
covered in the pages of the Decameron. Its characters were well- 
marked types of men who might have been found by dozens in the 
streets of Rome, Naples, and Florence. No matter where the 
supposed scene of the story is laid, or from what literary source 
it is derived, its personages, their idiosyncrasies, modes of thought 
and manners, as painted by Boccaccio, are all native Italian. Not 
more truly do the * Christian ' and * Christiana ' of Bunyan's Pil- 
grim's Progress represent ideal types of English Puritanism than 
Boccaccio's characters personate the men of the Renaissance. Even 
that prince of humorous hypocrites Ciappeletto has numerous counter- 
parts among his countrymen. For the pious friar who improves the 
occasion of his supposed exemplary end, thus addresses his audience : 
'e voi, maladetti da Dio, per ogni fuscello di paglia che vi si volge 
tra' piedi, bestemmiate Iddio e la Madre, e tutta la corte di Paradiso ' 
— words which seems to show that Renaissance freedom of thought 
had become so allied with licence of speech that we many accept the 
most impious of Boccaccio's personages, and even Pulci's brutal 
giant Margutte, as not greatly over-drawn caricatures of the period. 
In this particular indeed, the worst characters of Italian novelists, or 
Romantic poets, might easily be paralleled by historical instances of 
undoubted authenticity, as the readers of such works as Sismondi's 
Republics or Mr. Symond's volumes on the Renaissance must be fully 
aware. a 

It is quite in harmony with Boccaccio's unsf^culative temperament 
that we have no attempt in his works to discuss, or even formally 10 
question, any of the primary abstract beliefs of Christianity. His 
polemical attitude to Roman dogma begins when it clashes with 
human duty and the practical concerns of life. We have nothing in 
him resembling Pulci's sarcasms on the Trinity, or immortality. 
Yet so far as a uniform belief may be extracted from his writings, 
his speculative conceptions on the subject of Christianity were largely 
alloyed with the Pagan elements of his time. His notion of God 
e.g. is complicated with the ideas of Fortune, Chance, Nature, as in 
the case of other Renaissance thinkers. Nature is to him, as to Bruno 
and Vanini, " the Parent of all things," and the relation in which men 
and their shortcomings stand to her dictates is thus described, " la 
benignita di Dio non guardare a' nostri errori, quando da cosa che per 
noi veder non si possa procedano." l For Fortune he has such un- 
qualified regard as to ascribe to its agency not only contingencies 

1 Op. Yolg., i. p. 56. 



General Causes and Leaders. 137 

tending to virtue, but even opportunities for vice. His general con- 
ception of Providence is that it works by immutable laws; 1 but he 
seems to hint his disbelief in a doctrine of special or particular 
Providence ; and says that men under the circumstances should have 
recourse to human reason. • If this, as seems likely, was Boccaccio's 
real belief, it would go far to explain the philosophical indifference 
with which he contemplated the ravages of the Black Death. 

Boccaccio, so far as we gather from his writings, does not appear to 
have attempted a separation between the Christianity of the Gospels 
and its ecclesiastical evolution. But he is clearly alive not only 
to the fact of its perversion, but also to the modes by which it has 
been effected. The verbal jugglery e.g. by which unchristian deeds 
were labelled with Christian designations he exposes scornfully and 
incisively. 2 Nor does he fail to observe the pernicious astuteness of 
sacerdotalism, by which the very excellencies of Christianity were 
made to subserve the selfish and immoral objects of the Church. 3 He 
also insists on the example of Christ, as inculcating moral action as 
well as moral teaching. 4 Like Petrarca and other leaders of the 
Renaissance, Boccaccio employs against Rome all the armoury of his 
invective and the keen incisiveness of his wit and raillery. Rome, 
he says, was once the head, she is now the tail of the world. The 
lives of her Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops are either denounced in 
language vigorous and uncompromising as Luther's, or are castigated 
by sarcasm and irony peculiarly his own. There is scarce a single 
feature of Romish abuse and corruption to which Boccaccio does not 
apply his lash. The invocation of saints, the worship -of images, 
confessions, adoration of relics, penances, pilgrimages, canoniza- 
tions, miracles, superstitious prayers, charms and crossings, alms- 
giving, supposed death-bed conversions and the unscrupulous use of 
such occasions by the clergy, popular conceptions of heaven, hell and 
purgatory, the numberless tricks, impostures and juggleries of 
monks and friars — in a word the whole doctrine, polity and worship 
of Romanism, as it presented itself to the ordinary Italian of the 
fourteenth century. 

Nor are the limits of Boccaccio's free-thought reached by an enu- 
meration of the dogmas and abuses which he has assailed. The story 
of the Three Rings, which we have already alluded to, reveals a still 
profounder phase of his unbelief. Limiting its scope to Monotheistic 

1 Op. Yclg. % v. p. 84. 
1 Op. } i. p. 60. 
* Op., in. p. 84. 

4 Op. } iii. p. 85, referring to Acts i. 1 : " Jesus began both to do and to 
teach." 



J 



138 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

creeds, it is almost an assertion of religious indifference, a Renais- 
sance mode of affirming the argument of Pope's lines : 

* For forms of faith let angry zealots fight, 
He can't be wrong whose life is in the right.' 

And the principle thus formally enounced is confirmed by incidental 
remarks in other tales, as e.g. the conclusion of Ciappeletto's story, 
that men may approach God by unworthy means, but if the worship 
be sincere God does not regard the channel through which it is 
conveyed. Indeed there are indications, both in the Decameron and 
in his other writings, that at one part of his life Boccaccio shared 
Petrarca's conception of religion as consisting largely of culture — 
the Renaissance combination of ' Sweetness and Light.' Such seems 
the meaning of the words put into the mouth of Guido Cavalcanti — 
himself a foremost thinker of the time, and referred to with manifest 
approval by Boccaccio. Cavalcanti, refusing to join a certain club or 
society, was once surrounded by its members while walking in the 
arched enclosure of St. John's Church. One of them said to him, 
alluding to his supposed Epicureanism, ( Guido, you refuse to be of 
our society, but when you have discovered that there is no God, 1 
what good will you have done ? ' Guido, seeing himself surrounded, 
said, * Signori, you may tell me what you please in your own ground,' 
and, placing his hand on one of the arches, he vaulted lightly over it 
and so escaped. Whereupon his persecutors thinking that he had 
spoken without meaning, were corrected by one among them, who 
said, 4 It is yourselves, Signori, who are without understanding, if 
you cannot perceive that worthily and in few words he has spoken 
to us the severest reproof possible. If you consider well, these arches 
are the abode of the dead . . . and he calls them our ground (nostra 
casa), to show us that we, and other men ignorant and unlearned as 
we are, are in comparison with himself and learned men, worse than 
dead, and therefore, we being here, are in our own abode.' Probably 
in no other passage of the Decameron have we the mission of the 
Renaissance, and its attitude to older forms of religious thought, so 

1 Guido de Cavalcanti was the son of the Cavalcanti whom Dante in the 
10th Canto of the Inferno describes as an Epicurean. (Com p. Villani, Vile 
d 1 uomini Must., p. 60). The son was a free-thinker; but there is no ground 
for supposing him an Atheist. See on this point Manni, Storia del Vecanu, 
Part ii. p. 425, etc., who quotes the following words from Coipnt Magalotti's 
Letters, which are applicable to all similar accusations in tjhe time of the 
.Renaissance, 4 I mattematici passavano per Negromanti, i Fisici per poco 
religiosi, e che i Professori di belle lettere, punto punto che la loro erudizione 
sopraffactsse quella degli altri, erano subito diffamati per Eretbici ; tanto era 
sopramne in quei tempi 1' ignoranza.' 



General Causes and Leaders. 139 

distinctly enumerated. Bat there is another aspect of the Decameron 
which proves perhaps more than any other the extent and virulence 
of the opposition to Romanist dogma which marked the Italians of 
the fourteenth century. The most repulsive feature of the book, to a 
man of Christian culture, is the application to obscene purposes and 
objects of the most sacred words and ideas, doctrines and rites of the 
Christian religion. 1 As a general characteristic of the period this is 
of the greater importance, because it is a feature shared by most of 
the popular literature of the Renaissance; indeed all the Italian 
novelists 2 of this and the following centuries seem to vie with each 
other in this flagrant violation of decency and good taste. Here 
Free-thought seems to reach its climax of anti-Christian audacity. 
The language of piety, of devotion, of ecclesiastical dogma, is not 
only ingeniously perverted, but grossly travestied and burlesqued. 
It is not therefore skepticism that we have here manifested ; indeed 
the phenomenon may be said to be entirely independent of philo- 
sophical grounds of dissent from Christianity ; it is rather a shame- } 
less cynicism, a gross unfeeling parade of the worst passions of human 
nature, which is indescribably repulsive, not only to a religious mind, 
but to every man imbued with the faintest rudiments of morality. 

Allowance should perhaps be made for the peculiarities of a natural 
temperament, which seems now as then unable to distinguish between 
wit and scurrility, and which can pass without any appreciable 
interval or sense of difference from the extreme of superstition to 
that of blasphemous ribaldry. Boccaccio admits, though he cannot 
explain, the evil tendency of men to laugh at what is bad rather than 
what is good, 3 it is at least the tendency of his countrymen, and is 
one to which in the Decameron he habitually and excessively defers. 
In other respects, also, nothing can be better adapted to Italian tastes 
and aptitudes than the tone and manner of the Decameron. Nothing 
could be more effective as a ' Dissuasive from Popery ' than Boccac- 
cio's ridicule. Instead of philosophical arguments, ethical dis- 1 
courses, virulent tirades and denunciations, he exposes the corruptions . 
of the Church by raillery, wit, humour, sarcasm and irony — weapons/ 
always appreciated by the genuine Italian. What formal repre- 
hension of clerical hypocrisy, e.g. could have operated so efficiently 

1 In alluding to this feature of the Decameron, it may be remarked that 
there is a strange want of decorum and good taste in M. Bonneau's Introduc- 
tion to the recently published reprint of Le Macon's Translation. (Paris : I. 
Liseux, 1878.) See e.g. vol. i., Avert., p. xvii. 

* It may suffice to name Sacchetti and Masuccio as especially sinners in 
this particular. 

* Op. Volg.) iii. p. 107. 



c 



1 40 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

as Boccaccio's well-known examples. What elaborate refutation of 
the worship of relics would have been so effective as Father Onion's 
list of those he had seen with, and acquired from, the Patriarch of 
Jerusalem. Unfortunately, however, men who are converted only by 
their sense of the ludicrous do not always prove the most durable of 
converts. 

That Boccaccio was cognisant, and a little ashamed, of the coarse- 
ness of the Decameron is well known. It is perhaps as an apology 
for the whole work that he prefixed to one of his immoral tales the 
admonition that its hearers must act as they do in a garden, i.e. 
' pluck the roses and leave the briars behind.' But a more philo- 
sophical justification might have been found in the depravity of the 
Church. Boccaccio, we must remember, was the Hogarth, as Pulci 
was the Rabelais, of the Italian Renaissance. His novels with all their 
laxity, their scornful treatment of sacred things, were not imaginary 
concoctions of vicious manners and opinions, assumed to characterize 
a fictitious people ; they were forcible sketches drawn from the life, 
with little extra colouring or tendency to caricature, of the ecclesiastics 
and laymen of his time. He says himself, and we must accept his 
statement as another half-hinted apology for his book, that the age 
being libertine and lawless, his language might well be excused a 
certain amount of licentiousness. 1 There is not a single lascivious 

1 Op. Volg., iii. p. 171. For fair unexaggerated defences of the freedom and 
naXvite of the Decameron, comp. Dr. Landau, p. 135, etc., and Dr. Koerting, 
Boccaccio's Leben und Werke, p. 658, etc. The former asserts that the Prologue 
to Chaucer's 'Wife of Bath 1 is more indecent than the worst parts of the 
Decameron. He also suggests a comparison for apologetic purposes of 
Boccaccio's work with St, Bernard's sermons, The Book of De la Tour Landry 
for the instruction of his daughters, and the Gesta Romanorum. But the 
most eloquent defence yet offered of the Decameron is that of Giosue Carducci, 
in his Discorso, Ai parentali di G. Boccacci in Certaldo, pp. 18, 19. ( Certo, 
poiche in Natura v' e il senso e nella societa i traviamenti e le colpe del senso, 
cosl la materia sensuale fu maneggiata anche dal Boccaccio, come da molti 
prima e depo di lui. Ma chi declamasse ch' egli guasto il costume, che spogli6 
di fede e di pudicizia la donna, che degrada 1' amore, che attenta alia famiglia, 
quegli dimenticherebbe o dissimulerebbe piu cose. Dimenticherebbe la passione 
fedele della popolano Lisabetta e della principessa Gismonda, dimenticherebbe 
lagentil cortesia di Federico degli Alberighi e legare di generosita tra Gisippo 
e Tito Quinzio, dimenticherebbe le celesti sofferenze di Griselda, la pastorella 
provata fino al martirio dal marito marchese, la Griselda a cui la poesia 
cavalleresca nulla ha da contrapporre ne par da lontano. Dissimulerebbe 
che le novelle ove il puro senso trionfa sono ben poche, che una ben piu grosso- 
lana sensualita regnava gia da tempo anche nei canti del popolo, ed era stata 
provocata dalle ipocrisie, del misticismo cavalleresco e dagli eccessi dell' 
ascetismo. Dimenticherebbe o dissimulerebbe che il Boccaccio non distilla 
a' suoi lettori i lenti filtri della volutta conmentale, non li perverte a cercare 



General Causes and Leaders. 141 

image or immoral description in the whole Decameron that might 
not be paralleled, with far greater outrages on decency, in the lives 
and writings of the clergy of his time. Boccaccio might have said 
with one of his characters, that * it was too much to expect the sheep 
to have more resolution and constancy than the shepherds.' The 
excuses he makes for his work seem to me called forth by the fact of 
its being written in Italian, and for that reason circulating among 
the lower classes, to whom the open and reckless depravity of their 
superiors was as yet a little strange. Petrarca, who was perfectly 
cognisant of the life and conversation of the higher orders, both 
ecclesiastic and lay, saw no more ground for animadverting on the 
indecency of the Decameron than what was furnished by the warm 
imagination of a youth of nigh forty years ! Besides, all the more 
indecent among Boccaccio's tales are found in collections existing 
before his time, and with which the cultured sections of Italian 
society were quite familiar. It cannot be shown that he added to 
their grossness ; his remodelling consisting chiefly in reclothing them 
in his choice though somewhat Latinized Tuscan, and imparting to 
them humour, liveliness, point, picturesqueness and vivacity. 

But notwithstanding the indecency and profanity of portions of the 
Decameron, it is by no means an unqualifiedly vicious book. Under- 
lying, or side by side with, its immorality, and its seeming mockery 
of religious topics, there is discernible a strong undercurrent of 
regard for what is honourable, chaste and virtuous. 1 The contents 
of the book have in fact the motley diversified character, as well as 
the liveliness, excessive ingenuousness and point, of Montaigne's 
Essays. Both are indeed representative works. Both describe and 
embody, as in a kind of literary mosaic, the heterogeneous qualities of 
a transition period of intellectual fermentation and uncertainty. In 
both are found depravity side by side with virtuous teaching. Both 
attempt an amalgam of Christianity and Paganism ; and both are dis- 
tinguished by religious toleration and a broad conception of human 
duties, beliefs and interests. 

la felicita nella malattia delle languide fantasticherie, dell' ammollimento e 
della effeminazione. II Boccaccio fu un poeta sano ; e 1' avvenimento dell a 
pornocrazia in letteratura e impresa d' altri tempi e d' altri scrittori. 1 Com p. 
on Boccaccio's treatment of women, the elaborate work of Attilio Hortis, 
Studj sidle opere Latine del Boccaccio, pp. 76, 77, etc. 

1 Comp. e.g. the 6th and 7th Novels of the 10th Day. Some authors have 
supposed that the latter portion of the Decameron is less skeptical than the 
former. Thus Settembrini remarks, ( La prima giornata comincia col dubbio, 
T ultima dnisce colla fede nella virtu.' (Lezioni di Lett. Ital., vol. i. p. 170.) 
But this seems accidental, and is partly attributable to the design of making 
the Novels of each day bear upon a particular subject. 



142 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

That the chief outcome of the Decameron was liberty of thought 
and worship, that it expressed a healthy recoil against ecclesiastical 
dogma, and that for this reason it was pregnant with beneficial 
influences for the culture of the Renaissance, no impartial student 
of the period will deny. This zeal for freedom was doubtless attended 
by excesses, as I have already admitted. But there are few products 
of intellectual fermentation on a large scale which, even in their 
noblest and most homogeneous maturity, do not share the bitter 
flavour of the leaven which originally set in motion the inert mass. 
If human instincts, in righting themselves after centuries of oppres- 
sion, gave a sudden lurch in the opposite direction, their next impulse 
was the likelier to be a self-steadying and moderate movement. Cer- 
tainly the mere negative stand-point of the Decameron was no small 
gain to the mental progress of Italy. It was necessary to brush off 
the hypocrisies and sophistries of Rome, to expose fearlessly the 
immoral results of its dogmatic development, to substitute for an 
infallibility whose exercise manifested the most undoubted imbecility, 
intellectual and moral, the jurisdiction of reason and common sense. 
The lesson it taught Italy and Europe was the primary veracity of 
the human conscience, as against all systems of dictation and extrane- 
ous authority. Just as Descartes penetrated the alluvial strata of his 
acquired knowledge until he came to the primary rock of consciousness, 
so did Boccaccio strip off with scorn and contumely the figments and 
falsities of mediaeval belief, and enjoined the Renaissance truth-seeker 
to be satisfied only with the reality he had himself discovered to be 
such. And as with the rights of man, so also with those of nature. 
The Decameron vindicated them against the morbid asceticism, the 
fanatical obscuranticism and other-worldliness, which at that time 
was the only serious form in which Christianity was able to manifest 
itself. 

The subversive tendencies of the Decameron, in relation to dogma, 
were soon recognized by the Church. And it is instructive to observe 
that her fulminations were directed in the first instance not against 
those Tales which were most grossly immoral, but against those which 
assailed her own ungodly profits, e.g. Father Onion's relics. Besides 
directing her thunders against Boccaccio's work, she employed the 
more subtle plan of purging it of all its anti-clerical errors, 1 thus 
treating it as she did the Morgante Maggiore of Pulci, or as the 
Tractarian party in the English Church did the Pilgrim's Progress 
when they endeavoured to de-Puritanize it. The attempt, as may be 

1 On this ridiculous attempt, see Manni, Storia del Decam. Part iii. chap. x. 
Tiraboschi Storia, vii. p. 2806, andcomp. Dr. Landau's interesting chapter (viii.) 
of his Giovanni Boccaccio, p. 128, ' Das Decameron und seine Schicksale.' 



General Causes and Leaders. 143 

imagined, was unsuccessful. Gradually, but not so quickly as Boc- 
caccio's Latin writings, the fame of the book became diffused through- 
out Europe. Everywhere it was accepted as a worthy and character- 
istic product of Renaissance Free-thought, by one of the leading 
spirits of that movement, and it contributed much to disseminate and 
sustain the principles which originally gave it birth. 

There are some books of which it may be said, they are greater 
than their authors. They represent a short-lived literary climacteric, 
a tour de force of achievement— which having been gained is suc- 
ceeded by a proportional relapse into what is apparently the more 
normal condition of the writers. The Decameron is a work of this 
kind. It represents the high-water mark of Boccaccio's literary career, 
and is followed by an immediate and rapid subsidence of the flood- 
tide of his Free-thought. 

Boccaccio's first love, as we know, was Latin literature. He seems 
to have shared the prejudice of Petrarca — engendered by classical 
enthusiasm — that literary productions, to be permanent, must be writ- 
ten in Latin ; 1 and just as his friend based his hopes of fame on his 
tedious epic of Africa, and regarded the Rime as literary trifling, 
so Boccaccio forsook the vein of gold he had struck in the Decameron 
and turned his attention to a compendium of classical antiquity, his 
De Oenealogia Deorum. A change in this direction seems to have 
set in shortly after the publication of the Decameron. How far it 
may have been suggested by the clamours evoked by that work we 
have no means of knowing, but it was accelerated and confirmed by 
the event which is called his Conversion. Some time about the middle 
or end of 1361, a Carthusian monk, Ciani, waited upon Boccaccio, repre- 
senting himself as sent by a brother Carthusian (Petroni) who had died 
in the odour of sanctity in May of that year, to Boccaccio as well as 
to other free-thinkers, in order to reproach them with their evil lives 
and to lead them back into the right way. Petroni had objected 
especially to Boccaccio, that he had perverted the talents God had 
given him, and led men astray by his corrupt writings, which were 
veritable l tools of the Devil.' Ciani adjured our free-thinker, in the 
name of the sainted Peter aforesaid, to abandon his evil courses, re- 
linquish his pernicious poetry, and to employ himself with worthier 
studies. In the event of his neglecting the warning he threatened 

1 In this particular Dante was more prescient than either Petrarca or Boc- 
caccio. He changed his intention of writing the Divina Commoedia in Latin, 
because he foresaw that a poem written in Tuscan was more likely to be popu- 
lar, and hence to confer immortality, than one written in Latin, * Che se volgare 
fosse/ says Boccaccio, * il suo poema egli piacerebbe, dove in Latino sarebbe 
schifato.' 4 Comento Sopra Dante,' Op. Volg n x. p. 28. 



144 The Skeptics oj the Italian Renaissance. 

him with a speedy death and with the pains of hell. It was a curious 
Nemesis that made the author of the Decameron the object of atten- 
tions which he had himself so unsparingly ridiculed, and which, none 
knew better than he, were prompted either by self-interest or blind 
fanaticism. Unluckily the monk caught the great enemy of his order 
in a weak moment. Incredible as it may seem, Boccaccio believed 
Ciani's story, together with certain supernatural revelations employed 
to confirm it. He resolved, in order to avert the fate in store for him, 
to reform his course of life, to give up his poetry and belles lettres, 
and to sell his treasured books. Never was the triumph of supersti- 
tion over genius more complete. Happily he informed Petrarca of 
his design in a letter which no longer exists, and his friend replied 
in a well known Epistle, which is a model of dry humour and caustic 
sarcasm. 1 He represents himself as being shocked on hearing from 
Boccaccio the news of his approaching death, but his apprehensions 
were dispelled on a careful perusal of his letter. The prognostica- 
tion of a pious monk founded upon a divine revelation, he ironically 
admits, would be a serious matter — provided it were true. But how 
often are lies and deceits disseminated under the garb of religion, 
how often is not the name of God misused to betray mankind. All 
men indeed are mortal, and are certain of not a single moment of life. 
But Boccaccio has an advantage over other mortals, for his prophet 
has warned him of a fate which is not imminent, but approaching, and 
has allowed him time for repentance. Petrarca, as we know, was not 
insensible to the worth of religious emotion and duty ; but he cordi- 
ally detested the monkish perversion which made religion synonymous 
with ignorance and fanaticism. He assures Boccaccio that the coun- 
sel to forsake his poetry and his studies could only have emanated 
from illiterate and ill-minded men. He adds that he will buy his 
books if he determines to sell them. It is gratifying to find that the 
Epistle of his l venerable master,' as he often styles Petrarca, pro- 
duced some good effect on Boccaccio. His apprehensions of a speedy 
death, etc., were allayed. He determined to continue his studies, and 
not to sell his books. But Ciani's mission was not destined to be 
fruitless. Dr. Landau has observed that after the year 1361 there is 
a decided change, and unhappily for the worse, in Boccaccio's style. 
No longer has it the freedom, vivacity and point of the Decameron. 
Whether from ill-health or religious terrorism, it becomes dull, lifeless 
and insipid. He thinks it needful also to bestrew his later works 
with scraps of ecclesiastical dogma, in order to reassure his friends 
of his orthodoxy. But the most paradoxical effect of Boccaccio's con- 

1 Her. Senil., lib. i. ep. iv. Op. om., vol. ii. p. 740. 



General Causes and Leaders. 145 

version is that he becomes a collector of religions relics — a disciple 
of and dealer with men like Father Onion whom he lashes so unmerci- 
fully in the Decameron. It is only by remembering the peculiar 
union of skepticism and superstition characteristic of his time, that 
we are able to account for a taste so singular, in the case of an en- 
lightened and scholarly thinker like Boccaccio. It is said that when 
he died he had accumulated a large collection of these curiosities. We 
are not told what they were, and have therefore no means of knowing 
whether they were all as genuine as c il dito dello Spirito Santo cosl 
intero e saldo come fu mai,' or ' uno de dente della santa Croce, e in 
una ampolletta alquanto del suono delle campane del tempio di Sala- 
mone.' l 

There is little in the remainder of Boccaccio's life calculated to 
throw much light on his Free-thought. His energies are now 
directed to popularizing classical knowledge. Besides the De Genea- 
logia Deorum, he published De Claris mvlieribus Y and De casibus 
virorum iUustrium, works which were of standard authority not only 
in Italy, but in the greater part of Europe during the fifteenth 
century. 3 By these labours he helped to diffuse an acquaintance with 
heathen antiquity, and ipso facto contributed to advance the cause of 
the Renaissance. 

During the latter years of his life Boccaccio's learning, and his well 
known affection for Dante, received a gratifying recognition by his 
appointment in 1373 to deliver at Florence a course of public lectures 
on the Divina Commcedia. He is thus the first Professor of Dante in 
Europe. The result of that appointment is his well known Comento 
sopra Dante, which we may take as representing the last stage of his 
intellectual course, and his final attitude in relation to Free-thought. 
As might be supposed, he has no word of condemnation for the Inferno 
from the point of view of the injustice or repulsiveness of the idea. 
He sees nothing to animadvert, or even question, in the endless and 
excruciating torments of non-Christians. He is particularly zealous 
in defending Dante's orthodoxy, and no less solicitous in demonstra- 
ting his own. But there are still traces in his commentary of the 
free-thinking author of the Decameron. This tendency is especially 
marked when the literary and moral excellences of the heathen is 
contrasted with their supposed eternal destiny. Few estimates, e.g. 
of Aristotle, Sokrates and the other denizens of the first circle of the 



1 Decam. Giorn. Sest, Nov. x. 

* Comp. Dr. Landau, Oiov. Boc, p. 211, and on the general subject of Boc- 
caccio's Latin writings, see the Studj tulle Opere Latin* del Boccaccio, of Attilio 
Hortis. (Trieste, 1879.) 

VOL. L L 



1 46 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Inferno could be more appreciative 1 than that of Boccaccio. He 
also discusses fully the propriety, of punishing such noble examples 
of humanity for errors of which they were not guilty consciously, if 
at all. He is however inclined to believe that punishment can only 
follow positive transgression; and that if the heathen are punished 
eternally they must have rejected some such divine call as that indic- 
ated by the Psalmist: 'There is no voice nor language, but their voices 
are heard among them.' This discussion is closed by the words: 
( Nondimeno che qui per me detto sia, io non intendo di derogare in 
alcuno atto alia cattolica verita, ne alia sentenza di piu savii." 2 On 
heresiarchs he is just as severe as Dante ; and his reasons for their 
eternal torments are such as would justify the inquisitor in the un- 
reserved application of his racks and thumb-screws, We may there- 
fore, I think, sum up the last phase of Boccaccio's intellect as mani- 
festing an oscillation between the intellectual independence of his 
maturity and the superstition of his declining years. It is clear 
to me that for no small portion of his Free-thought Boccaccio was 
indebted to the influence of Petrarca. Without the support of 
his master he would long since have fallen a prey to the machina- 
tions of such fanatics as OianL But though devoid of the mental 
strength of most of his compeers among Renaissance thinkers, Boc- 
caccio was at heart a truth seeker. In the interests of truth and 
freedom he opposed the corruptions of the Papacy — in fear of false- 
hood and under a morbid self-distrust, perhaps engendered by infirm 
health, he sought the shelter of that system whose manifold turpitudes-' 
he had so convincingly exposed. But in both cases, in his skepticism 
as in his belief; in his sitting at the feet of Petrarca and bowing his 
head to the monkish tales of Ciani ; in his collection of classical manu- 
scripts and his accumulation of ecclesiastical relics ; in the strength 
and wisdom of the Decameron, and the weakness of the fatuity of 
much of his later writings, Boccaccio's conscientiousness is indisput- 
able. The course of true love, when truth itself is the object of pur- 
suit, does not in every case run smooth, any more than it does in the 
ordinary application of the proverb. Boccaccio must be estimated 
by his intentions, rather than by actual results. Among his Canzone, 
probably written about the time of the Decameron, there is a very 
remarkable one, which Dr. Landau well characterizes as ' full of the 
yearning of a great mind for the possession of the highest truth.' It 
is an admission of doubt, and a prayer for enlightenment. It reveals 
a distrust of self, and a dependence on the Eternal Reason that governs 
the Universe. It breathes that tender wistful aspiration that dis- 

1 Op. Volg. t x. pp. 51, 294, etc. » Op. Vcig., x. p. 849. 



General Causes and Leaders. 147 

tinguishes so many of the Renaissance Free-thinkers. The poem thus 
unites in one point of view the combined skepticism and piety which 
were the governing principles of Boccaccio's character, and which 
divided between them his life. With it accordingly I conclude my 
sketch. 

' O Glorious Monarch who dost rule the sky 

With reason's changeless law ; who mortal mind 

Alone canst scan, and how frail errors wind 

In folds round human thought dost well descry : 

Come wing to me thy flight, if humble sigh 
Displease thee not. All earthly passions blind 
From me remove. Thy wings unto me bind 
That I may soar to truths that cannot die. 

* Take from my dimm&d eyes that blinding veil 
Which lets me not perceive my devious way, 
From false serenity give me release. 
Chase from my breast the frosts which there prevail 
And so enkindle it with thy warm ray 
That I at last may reach to thy true Peace.' 1 

_ . . _. . Every great period of intellectual fermentation will 
^^ * necessarily be marked by violent contrasts and dispa- 

rities. Principles, feelings, beliefs, customs and interests, not only 
diverse from but antagonistic to each other, present themselves in all _ 
kinds of quaint juxtaposition, and connexion. This motley tout ensemble V f 
affords to the keen-eyed satirical observer, who takes up a standpoint 
of skeptical indifference in relation to it, rare opportunities for the in- 
dulgence of humorous and ironical comment. He takes a grim pleasure 
in watching the preposterous marriages and grotesque companionships 
which only the Goddess of Discord herself could have planned. He 
delights in exposing and exaggerating the weak, strange or comical 
aspects of grave institutions and pretentious beliefs. This is the 
position of Pulci in relation to the Renaissance. He represents its 
humorous and satirical aspect, just as Dante does its mediaeval, 
Petrarca its classical and humanistic, and Boccaccio its popular and 
literary sides. I have already termed him the Rabelais of the 
movement; he is also its Cervantes. Don Quixote's burlesque of 
knight errantry finds an easily recognizable parallel in Pulci's 
giant Morgante, and the mockery implied in his adventures, of 
the opinions and customs of chivalrous times. Perhaps Sancho 
Panza even has his counterpart in Pulci's creation of Margutte. At 

1 Rime xlix., Op. Vdlg., xvi p. 71. 



148 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

any rate, Pulci's great work, the Morgante Maggiore, may fairly be 
described as a serio-comic representation of the Renaissance, with all 
its manifold activities and heterogeneous products. Here we have 
depicted its piety and its buffoonery, its superstition and its skeptic- 
ism, its philosophy and its frivolity, its jest and its earnest. It is 
natural to compare the work with the Decameron. They are com- 
panion pictures, representing the same epoch — like a landscape 
painted from two different standpoints. Boccaccio has re-cast and re- 
clothed the popular tales of the Renaissance. Pulci does the same 
for its ballads and romantic poetry. But whereas Boccaccio's narra- 
tive is simple and direct, and his opinions not difficult of determina- 
tion, it is almost as hard to define Pulci's real sentiments as it is 
Rabelais', and for similar reasons. He regards the time, with its 
weightest concerns, beliefs and opinions, as subjects of mockery and 
raillery. His audience, moreover, differed considerably from Boc- 
caccio's. The latter was a popular novelist, whose stories were read 
and enjoyed by every section of society. Pulci was the favoured 
^ Poet Laureate — as he might be styled — of Lorenzo di Medici and his 
magnificent Court. As to the comparative extent of their Free- 

t thought, there can be little doubt that Pulci is the greater skeptic ; 
though he also has a vein of devotional feeling underlying his seeming 
profanity. The similarities between the two champions of mental 
freedom will appear when we have investigated Pulci further. 

In order to this, we must obtain some distinct idea of the only 
great work associated with his name — Morgante Maggiore — Morgante 
the Great. This work is chiefly taken up with the adventures of 
Orlando, the celebrated Paladin of Charlemagne's Court, and the 
hero of so much romantic poetry, Italian and other. But its chief 
interest is concentrated on a Giant Morgante, who is converted by 
Orlando, and becomes his Esquire. The addition to his name of 
' Great ' is probably a sarcasm on Charlemagne himself, who is here 
depicted as a weak-minded prince. With the adventures of Orlando, 
and his brother Paladins, of Morgante and some other giants, the 
intrigues of Charlemagne's court, ending with the famous battle of 
Roncesvalles, the whole poem is taken up. We need not follow these 
adventures, which are sometimes grotesque and generally wearisome. 
For our object it will suffice to catch the peculiar mocking and 
libertine humour of the author, and the bantering ridicule with 
which he treats all human opinions and hobbies, not even excepting 
Skepticism itself. 

The first point claiming our attention is the introduction of solemn 
religious invocations in the first lines of each book, a significant 
mannerism which has been copied by Voltaire in La PuceUe. Thus 



General Causes and Leaders. 149 

he begins the 1st Canto with the first two verses of St. John's 
Gospel, the 4th with the Gloria in Excelsis, the 6th with the address 
in the Lord's Prayer, the 10th with the commencement of the Te 
Denm. In other cantos, also, he addresses, in apparently a half 
serious half profane manner, the persons of the Trinity, terming Jesus 
Christ in one place, — 

' O Sommo Glove per noi crocifisso,' ' 

While he styles the Virgin, who is the favourite object of his 
worship, — ** 

* figlia madre e sposa 
Di quel Signor.' 

This peculiarity is no doubt to be partly explained by the strange 
medley of Christian and Pagan ideas current at that time, and 
which we have seen abundantly exemplified in other cases. But 
in the case of Pulci this feature seems to mean more. It indicates 
a contemptuous disregard of mere religious phraseology. It betrays > 
the cordial detestation of Cant which is one of his distinguishing } 
attributes. It evinces an inclination to sport with topics perhaps 
held in undue and superstitious reverence, in order to reduce them to 
a human level. Leigh Hunt 8 has referred this characteristic to the 
impartiality of a thorough jester, who permits no exemption from his 
not ill-intentioned banter ; and he very ingeniously illustrates Pulci's 
religious commencements, with their frequently profane continuations, 
by a solemn ' grace before meat,' preceded and followed by secular, 
perhaps frivolous discussion. For our purpose it is one manifestation 
among many others of Pulci's free-spokenness, as well as an indirect 
illustration of his joyous large-hearted humanity, which was jealous 
of all entities, opinions, creeds, and even words which threatened to 
repress or coerce it to seriousness. 

The tone of the book is shown in the first Canto, in which Orlando 
discovers and converts Morgante. The gigantic Saracen is one of 
three brothers ; and they are introduced as blockading, by slinging 
stones at, a certain abbey, governed by a holy and simple abbot, who 
turns out to be a relation of Orlando. When the Paladin arrives 
at the abbey he knocks at the gate, but for a time cannot obtain 
admission. At last the abbot appears, and apologises for the delay 
by the confusion into which the abbey has been thrown by the 

1 It should however be borne in mind that the first person of the Trinity is 
occasionally styled ' Jove ' by some of our early English dramatists. Comp. 
e.g. Dyce's note in his edition of Mar low's works, p. 80. 

* Stories from, the Italian Poets, vol. i. p. 298. 



1 50 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

perpetual attacks of the giants. ' Our ancient fathers in the church/ 
he says, ' were rewarded for their holy service, for if they served 
God well they were also well paid. Don't suppose that they lived 
altogether upon locusts. It is certain that manna rained upon them 
from heaven ; but here one is regaled with stones, which the giants 
rain on us from the mountain, — these are our tid-bits and relishes. 
The fiercest of the three, Morgante, plucks up pines and other great 
trees by the roots and casts them on us.' l While they were thus 
talking in the cemetery there came a stone as if it would break the 
back of the Paladin's horse. On which the abbot exclaims, ' For 
God's sake, come in, Cavalier, the manna is falling.' Orlando under- 
takes to encounter the giants. After vanquishing and slaying two 
of them, he is about to attack Morgante, the surviving brother, when 
he immediately yields himself to the Christian knight, and announces 
his intention of becoming a Christian. The reason of this sudden 
conversion is characteristic of Pulci. Morgante confesses that he 
has had a strange vision, in which he seemed assailed by a serpent. 
' I called,' he says, ( upon Mahomet in vain, then I called upon your 
God who was crucified, and he helped me, and I was delivered from 
the serpent, so I am ready to become a Christian.' The poem 
abounds with examples of conversion no less spasmodic and irrational; 
and it seems impossible to deny that they were intended as satires on 
the cheap and easy transmutation of Pagans into Christians, of 
which the latter, both warriors and ecclesiastics, were wont to boast. 
Morgante not only embraces the Christian faith, he is ready to ex- 
emplify its humility by asking pardon of the monks whose abbey he 
had previously attacked. He also resolves to follow Orlando until 
death. Before proceeding on their adventures, Orlando talks with 
Morgante of his slain brothers, and does not disguise his opinion that 
they are gone to hell. He however consoles Morgante with the 
promise of eternal felicity in heaven. ' The doctors of our Church,' 
continued he (I here quote Leigh Hunt's translation 2 ), 'are all 
agreed that if those who are glorified in heaven were to feel pity for 
their miserable kindred who lie in such horrible confusion in hell, 
their beatitude would come to nothing; and this you see would 
plainly be unjust on the part of God. But such is the firmness of 
their faith that what appears good to him appears good to them. Do 
what He may they hold it to be done well, and that it is impossible 
for Him to err, so that if their very fathers and mothers are suffering 
everlasting punishment it does not disturb them an atom.' 

1 Canto I., Str. 25, 26. Comp. Leigh Hunt, Op. cit, i. p. 820. 
• Stories, etc., i. p. 825. 



General Causes and Leaders. 151 

* Che quel che piace a Dio, sol piace a loro : 
Questo s' osserva ne 1' eterno coro.' 1 

Morgante cheerfully assents to Orlando's exposition of celestial 
manners and sentiment. ' Few words for a wise man/ said Morgante. 
4 You shall see if I grieve for my brethren, and whether or no I 
submit to the will of God and behave myself like an angel. So, 
Dust to dust, and now let us enjoy ourselves. I will cut off their 
hands, all four of them, and take them to these holy monks, that they 
may be sure they are dead, and not fear to go out alone into the 
desert. They will then be certain also that the Lord has purified 
me and taken me out of darkness, and assured to me the kingdom of 
heaven.' * So saying, the giant cut off the hands of his brethren, and 
left their bodies to the beasts and birds. No satire against the 
inhuman theology of Dante on the one hand, and Calvin on the other 
could be more justifiably severe, or more strongly marked. It is the\ 
powerful and eternal plea of the human affections against an/ 
assumed tyrannical government of the Universe. No argument 
could demonstrate more conclusively how the ordinary conception 
of hell-fire robs Deity of his love and heaven of its loveliness. No 
proof could be more convincing of the essentially and unscrupuously 
selfish character of much of the dogma of ecclesiastical Christianity. 
Orlando and Morgante are in fact typical Christians by whom the 
dictates of reason, the instincts of human affection are rigidly 
subordinated to the arbitrary requirements of sacerdotal systems. 
Christianity, or I should say its ecclesiastical counterfeit, has often 
insisted, as here, on the dismemberment of our brethren in order to 
establish our own orthodox faith. 

In another remarkable passage a little further on, Pulci satirizes 
still further the ruling ideas and subjects of Dante's Inferno. 
Orlando and Morgante on their travels arrive at an enchanted castle, 
where they find a vault with a tomb in it. Out of this proceeded a 

1 Canto I., Str. 52. It is needless to point out the sarcasm of this interpre- 
tation of ecclesiastical theology, or its influence as a source of much of the 
immoral teaching of Bomanism. We may compare with it the reply of the 
rustic, who being questioned as to the meaning of implicit child-like faith, 
answered, * When my mother says a thing is so, I must believe it is so, if it 
isn't so '—words which contain in a nutshell the whole theory of Bomanism. 
* * E perche veggan la mia mente pura 

A quel signer, che m' ha il suo regno aperto 
£ tratto f uor di tenebra si oscura. 
£ poi tagli6 le mani a 1 duo fratelli, 
E lasciagli alle fiere, ed agli uccelli. — Canto I., Str. 54. 
Comp. Leigh Hunt, Stories, etc, i. p. 827. 



152 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

voice saying, ( You must encounter with me or stay here for ever. 
Lift therefore the stone that covers me.' 

* Do you hear that ? ' said Morgante. ' I'll have him out, if it's the 
Devil himself. Perhaps it's two devils. Filthy-dog and Foul-mouth, 
or Itching and Evil-tail, (names of devils in Dante). 

' Have him out,' said Orlando, ' whoever he is, even were it as 
many devils as were rained out of heaven into the centre.' 

Morgante lifted up the stone, and out leaped a devil in the -likeness 
of a dried-up dead body, black as a coal. Orlando seized him, and 
the devil in return grappled with Orlando. Morgante was for joining 
him, but the Paladin bade him keep back. It was a hard struggle, 
and the devil grinned and laughed, till the giant, who was a master 
of wrestling, could bear it no longer : so he doubled him up, and in 
spite of all his efforts thrust him back into the tomb. 

The devil however assures Orlando that Morgante's baptism, and 
his own, and their deliverance, were events dependent on each other. 
Accordingly, Orlando baptized the giant : whereupon with a mighty 
noise, the enchanted house disappeared, and Orlando and Morgante 
were free men. 

The giant is so transported with his victory over this single devil 
that he is inclined to attack the whole diabolical host of the Inferno. 
' I could find it in my heart,' he said, ' to go down to these same 
regions below, and make all the devils disappear in like manner. 
Why shouldn't we do it? We'd set free all the poor souls there. 
Egad, I'd cut off Minos's tail — I'd pull out Charon's beard by the 
roots — make a sop of Phlegyas, and a sup of Phlegethon — unseat 
Pluto — kill Cerberus and the Furies with a punch of the face a-piece 
— and set Beelzebub scampering like a dromedary.' l 

If we remember that these and similar passages were recited 
before Lorenzo di Medicis, we shall have some some idea not only 
of the freedom of that court in matters of ecclesiastical dogma, but 
also of the skepticism of the cultured classes, in Florence and else- 
where, with respect to the theology of Dante. Nor is this to be 
attributed to the impatience of a libertine age with ideas of dis- 
cipline and retribution. It was rather the repugnance of the 
human conscience, when free-thought had strengthened its dictates 
and promoted their independent expression — to a scheme of Divine 
Providence which comprehended an Inferno like Dante's as part of 
its plan. Pulci, we shall presently discover, had other and more 
philosophical theories as to depopulating those Tartarian regions 
which Dante's sombre imagination had so elaborately colonized. 

1 This is Leigh Hunt's vivacious rendering of the passage. See his StoiHe$, 
etc., i. p. 886. 



General Causes and Leaders. 153 

But there is a curious episode of the Morgante Maggiore which 
especially concerns our subject of Renaissance Free-thought. In 
the 18th Canto we are introduced to another giant, Margutte, who 
seems intended by Puici to typify partly the Paganism, partly the 
Skepticism of the period. Morgante, journeying to join his master, 
suddenly falls in with this monster. He accosts him, ' What is 
your name, traveller ? ' The other answered, ' My name is Margutte. 
I intended to be a giant myself, but altered my mind you see and 
stopped half-way, so that I am only twenty feet or so. 7 Morgante 
then asks further, ( Are you Christian or Saracen ? Do you believe 
in Christ or in Mahomet ? ' In reply, Margutte enounces that cynical 
admission of unfaith, which the best writers on the Renaissance l 
have accepted as the expression of its extreme Skepticism. ' To tell 
you the truth,' he answered, — 

4 In black I believe no more than in blue, 
Boil'd or roasted, a capon I hold to be true ; 
Sometimes too in butter I also believe, 
And ale, when I cannot get must, I receive 
(While the latter is best when most rough I conceive) ; 
Above all I hold faith in sound and good wine, 
And the man I deem saved whose belief is like mine.' 

Proceeding with the enumeration of his Epicurean tenets he 
continues, — 

* 1 believe in a tart and a tartlet well done, 
The one is the mother the other the son. 
The real pater noster is a good fegatello,* 
And these may be three, and two and but one,' etc., etc. 

From the satirist's point of view this confession of faith is a not 
unfair caricature of the excessive sensualism of Pulci's time. The 
reckless disregard of all truth but what appealed to the animal 
passions of mankind was not then induced by the demoralization 
attending such fearful events as the Black Death, but was the fruit 
of a one-sided and extreme Naturalism. The spirit of which the 
Decameron is an outcome, and which Boccaccio put forward as the 
main justification of the work, is pourtrayed in the Morgante 

1 e.g. Bartholmess and Berti in their lives of Giordano Bruno, Prof. Villari 
in his life of Macchiavelli, Settembrini in his Lezioni di Letteratura Italiana, 
etc. 

* This dainty which stood so high in Margutte's dietetic Pantheon consisted 
of chopped liver made into a kind of sausage. In the West of England a 
similar preparation is still called a ' faggot.' 



154 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Maggiore, no doubt with some exaggeration, as the temper of Floren- 
tine citizens at the very height of the commercial greatness of their 
city. The picture is not, nor was it intended to be, attractive. Pulci 
does not spare Skepticism, any more than he does other diverse forms 
of earnest conviction. But Margutte, sensual and brutish as he is, is 
not left without some redeeming trait. With all the vices which he 
discloses with such extravagant candour, 1 he still possesses one 
r virtue; and that in Pulci 's estimation of no little importance. He 
had never betrayed a comrade. 2 He thus evidences some sense of 
honour, brotherhood and fidelity. We cannot help being reminded, 
in the enumeration of Margutte's vices thus qualified by this solitary 
virtue of a capacity for friendship, that Morgante's good qualities, 
his sudden conversion, his docile temper, his ready humility were 
accompanied by an unnatural and unpleasant absence of brotherly 
feeling, for he showed no compunction in lopping off his brother's 
hands as a pledge of his Christianity. I have often thought this 
contrast intended by Pulci to represent the respective merits and 
demerits of Paganism and Christianity, from his own standpoint 
of general benevolence. Undoubtedly the tendency of much in 
ecclesiastical Christianity was to make men selfish and indifferent 
to the interests of others. On the other hand, there was much in 
Paganism, or Mahometanism, to bind men together by ties of brother- 
hood, community of thought, interests, etc. Morgan te regards his 
brother giant's assertion that he had never transgressed the law of 
friendship as a considerable set off against his general Skepticism ; 
for otherwise as he believed in nothing, he should have compelled him 
to believe in his bell-clapper — the weapon Morgante was carrying. 
The two giants pursue their adventures together. Morgante however 
continually banters and cheats his friend, especially in the matter 
of eating and drinking. Margutte at last remonstrates. ' I reverence 
you,' he says, ' in other matters, but in eating you really don't behave 
well. He who deprives me of my share at meals is no friend. At 
every mouthful of which he robs me, I seem to lose an eye. I am for 
sharing everything to a nicety ; even if it be no better than a fig, a 
chestnut, a rat, or a frog.' s Morgante answers, ' You are a fine 
fellow, you gain upon me very .much. You are " II maestro die color 
che sanno." ' This application of Dante's description of Aristotle to 
the typical but caricatured Skepticism of his own time affords a 

1 Canto xviii., Str. 119-142. 
• ( Salvo che questo alia fine udirai, 
Che tradimento ignun non feci mai. 1 

Canto xviii., Str. 142. 
3 Canto xviii., Str. 19a 



General Causes and Leaders. 155 

good illustration of Pulci's grotesque humour. Certainly it was 
not Aristotle nor any system of definite knowledge, that could in 
Pulci's own circle claim a ' mastership.' ' Those who knew ' were 
for the most past eager to disclaim all knowledge of a positive kind, 
and many of them, in the spirit of Margutte, confined all their 
thoughts and aspirations to mundane enjoyments. Pulci's burlesque 
rendering of Dante's serious phrase gives also a measure of the 
progress of the Renaissance during the last two centuries. TheV 
classical ism of the thirteenth had given way to the complete n 
intellectual independence of the fifteenth century; and the progressive / 
emancipation was accompanied by a humorous estimate of the chief 
agencies that co-operated in its production. 

Another feature of Pulci's immediate environment, and of the Italy 
of the fourteenth century, is illustrated by Margutte's death. This is 
in complete harmony with the recklessness of his life. He literally 
explodes in a fit of inextinguishable laughter on witnessing the 
grimaces of a monkey who had found his boots and was pulling them 
on and off. 1 He is thus an apt symbol of the perpetual irrepressible 
ridicule which a sensual age and a one-sided culture bestowed on all 
topics alike. 8 The lesson is emphasized by Margutte's destiny : 

4 Ei ride ancora, e ridera in eterna.' 

Pulci himself is, in this respect, an admirable exponent of the Age 
and of its jesting temper. There are few crazes or enthusiasms of 
Florence under Lorenzo of which he does not present the ' seamy 
side.' He ridicules e.g. the Academy instituted by Lorenzo for the 
cultivation of the Greek language. With the appreciation of indi- 
vidual liberty which is the primary necessity of every free-thinker, 
together with the somewhat distinct quality best described as Bohe- 
mianism, Pulci holds aloof from that and every other institution 
which might have had the effect of conventionalizing himself or his 
wayward literary moods. His own Academe and Gymnasia — the 
source and guide of his poetic inspiration — were wild woods and 
secluded bosky dells. 8 He sneers also at the pedantry and exclu- 
siveness which attended the revival of Greek Literature, and the 
over-acted enthusiasm of the Florentine Platonists — the chief literary 
Cants of his age. Nor is he a whit more merciful to the learned dis- 
cussions of university professors and popular teachers, especially 

1 Canto xix., Str. 147-149. 

* ' Oh questi,' says Settembrini, * questi & veramente 1' uomo di quel seoolo, & 
V Italiano che ride di tutto, che perdera tutto, anche la liberta, e morira 
ridendo come Margutte. 1 — Lezioni di Lett. Itcd., i. p. 880. 

8 Comp. Morgante, Canto xxv., Str. 116-117. 



156 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

when their themes appeared impractical and insoluble. When e.g. 
the whole of Italy was agitated by the controversy on Immortality, 
originally provoked by Pomponazzi's work on the subject, Pulci's cha- 
racteristic contribution to the discussion consisted of a burlesque ode 
on some of the theories mooted, which equals in irreverence anything 
to be found in Rabelais. 1 But with all his contemptuous indifference 
for serious topics, and his irrepressible desire to prick with the keen 
point of raillery some of the inflated and gaseous bladders which in 
that as in every other age would willingly pass themselves off as 
solid bodies, Pulci was by no means a thoughtless man. His uni- 
versal jest was not the outcome of mental vacuity, but the instinctive 
reflex action of primary ingredients in his creed. In the first place 
all his convictions of Deity, of Nature, of Man were optimistic. The 
next thought of his theology is found in the definition of Ghod with 
which he commences the sixth Canto of the Morgante — 

* O Padre nostro che ne' cieli stai 
Non circumscritto,* ma per piu amore 
Ch' a' primi effeti di lassu tu hai' — 

a definition which however incomplete, is more in harmony with the 
teachings of Christianity, as well as with the prime instincts of 
humanity than Dante's Creator of the Inferno. His scheme of Re- 
demption contemplates the salvation of the whole human race, a 
theory which he places on the broad grounds of divine justice ; and 
his charity, like that of Origen, embraces, as a possible contingency, 
* the ultimate salvability of the fallen angels. But it is part of Pulci's 
humour that his most cherished opinions are frequently placed in the 
mouth of the most incongruous of his characters. His own Skepti- 
cism, and that of his age — the brilliant and aesthetic Epicureanism 
of the court of Lorenzo — is typified by the sensuous creed of a gigan- 
tic Caliban, who occupies the debateable territory between man and 
brute. A grave discussion on free will takes place between an en- 
chanter and a devil with, it must be averred, as much reasonableness 
and anti-diabolical judgment as could have been expected from two 
philosophers. A debate on Christian doctrine takes place, under cir- 

1 See this sonnet in Prof. Fiorentino's Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 154. It is 
translated and commented on in M. Albert Castelnau's Let Medici* , vol. i. 
p. 429. 

• Comp. Dante : — Par., Canto xiv. 

' Quell 1 uno, e due, e tre, che sempre vive 
Non circonscritto, e tutto circonscrive. 1 

The contrast between the elder poet's attention to dogmatic formulae, and 
Pulci's stress upon human instincts is instructive. 



General Causes and Leaders. 157 

cumstances hardly suggestive of reverence between a Christian knight 
and his Saracen mistress ; while his best exponent of theology is a 
thoughtful, mild, and philosophic devil. This last character, Ash- 
taroth, seems to me one of the most interesting, albeit diabolical, in 
the whole gallery of the Morgante. In an argument with the en- 
chanter Malgigi, he lays down distinctly the subordination of the Son 
to the Father in the doctrine of the Trinity. His reason being :— 

1 Colui che tutto fe, sa il tutto solo, 
E non sa ogni cosa il suo figliuolo.' l 

The enchanter, like some popular divines in the English Church, is 
scandalized at an interpretation of the doctrine, which is indubitably 
that of the earliest Church, whereupon this most orthodox and scrip- 
tural of devils : — 

' Disse Astarotte tu non hai ben letto 
La Bibbia, e par mi con essa poco uso 
Che, interrogate del gran di il figliuolo 
Disse che il Padre lo sapeva solo.' ' 

Ashtaroth has the task imposed on him of conveying one of Charle- 
magne's Paladins (Rinaldo) from Egypt ; to take part in the great 
battle of Roncesvalles. He does this by taking possession of his 
horse which thereupon soars through the air with him in a straight 
line towards the valley of Roncesvalles. On their way the wise devil 
instructs Rinaldo in different subjects of religion, philosophy, and 
physical science. Passing e.g. the Pillars of Herakles, he ridiculed 
the notion that nothing was to be found beyond them, ' for ' said he, 
1 the earth is round and the sea has an even surface all over it ; and 
there are nations on the other side of the globe who walk with their 
feet opposed to yours, and worship other gods than the Christians, as 
e.g. the Sun and Jupiter and Mars.' 

It is difficult to find, in any time prior to Columbus, a more distinct 
assertion of the existence of the Antipodes. The effect of the com- 
munication upon Rinaldo is to awaken curiosity respecting the salva- 
bility of races so far removed from the limits of Christendom. He 
immediately asks if these can be saved ? The answer of the humane 
Ashtaroth is instructive and might advantageously be laid to heart by 
the bulk of Christian teachers, whether Catholic or Protestant. ' Do 
you take the Redeemer for a partizan, and imagine he died for you 
only ? Be assured he died for the whole world, Antipodes and all. 
Perhaps not one soul will be left out of the pale of salvation at last ; 

1 Canto xxv., Str. 186. * Canto xxv., Str. 141. 

8 Canto xxv., Str. 229-281. 



158 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

but the whole human race will adore the truth, and find mercy. The 
Christian is the only true religion ; but heaven accepts all goodness 
that believes honestly, whatsoever the belief may be.' * If, as seems 
certain, we are at liberty to take these words as an epitome of Pulci's 
speed, we may I think credit him, notwithstanding his raillery, with 
//possessing a far corrector notion of the mission of Christianity and its 
// relation to humanity than he could have derived from the decrees of 
Ecclesiastical Councils and the writings of the Fathers. Nor is his 
ascription of such humane and genuinely Christian sentiment to a 
devil so incongruous as at first sight it might seem. Indeed Pulci 
appears to me to have invested his conception of Ashtaroth with more 
vraisemblance than any of the great creators of dramatic and poetic 
devils, e.g. Dante, Milton and Goethe, for he has allowed the existence 
not only in intellect, but in feeling, of some relics of those celestial 
sentiments that animated them in their pre-f alien condition. Ash- 
taroth's own plea for the retention of feelings so anti-diabolical is 
pathetic and would have strongly moved the compassionate heart of 
Sterne's Uncle Toby. ' Do not suppose ' he says * that nobleness of 
spirit is lost among us denizens of the nether regions. You know 
what the proverb says, There's never a fruit however degenerate but 
will taste of its stock. I was of a different order of beings once and 
. . . but it is as well not to talk of happy times.' * Rinaldo parts 

1 Canto xxv., Str. 233 and 284 :— Comp. also Str. 285 and 236. 

1 Dunque sarebbe partigiano stato 
In questa parte il vostro JEtedentore 
Che Adam per voi quassu f ossi formato 
£ crucifisso lui per voetro amore : 
Sappi ch' ognun per la Croce e salvato ; 
Forse ehe '1 vero dopo lungo errore 
Adorerete tutti di concordia 
£ troverrete ognun misericordia. 

' Basta che sol la vostra Fede e oerta 
£ la Vergine e in Ciel glorificata ; 
Ma nota che la porta e sempre aperta, 
£ insino a quel gran di non fia serrata 
£ chi fara ool cor giusta V offerta, 
Sara questa olocausta acoettata 
Che molto piace al Ciel la obbedienzia, 
£ timore, osservanzia e reverenzia. 
* Canto xxvi., Str. 88. 

( Non creder, nello inferno anche fra noi 
Gentilezza non sia ; sai che si dice, 
Che in qualche modo, un proverbio fra voi, 
Serba ogni pianta della sua radice, 
Benohe sia tralignato il frutto poi ; — 
Or non parliam qui del tempo felioe.' 



General Causes and Leaders. 159 

from his (nominally) infernal mentor with every expression of good 
will. It seems as if he were parting from a brother ; he is convinced 
that ' Gentilezza, amicizia, e cortesia ' are not unknown among devils ; 
and he promises to pray that not only Ashtaroth, but every other 
member of the Satanic legions may repent and obtain the divine 
pardon, 1 

These glimpses are sufficient to reveal the kindly tolerant freedom 
which underlies so much of what seems whimsical and bizarre in 
Pulci's thought. His true character can indeed only be arrived at 
by placing the flowers of his wit, the aromatic and bitter herbs of 
his jest and satire, in the alembic of critical and scrutinizing re- 
search and thus distilling their fragrant spirit. An inveterate foe of 
everything like cant and pretension, Pulci takes pleasure, as did 
Rabelais, in veiling under grotesque symbols and hiding in obscure 
and improbable corners his own genuine sentiments. Perhaps it was 
not only his humoristic standpoint, but a genuine insight into the 
time, that impelled him to dress up truth in motley, as if he had 
thought that her own naked loveliness was more than the ignorant 
prudery and purblind vision of men would bear — but not the less 
lovingly* does he regard her in the quaint and fanciful costumes with 
which his sportive tenderness has invested her. As regards the cur- 
rent beliefs of his time, Pulci is a skeptic. For the ordinary dog- 
mata of the Romish Church, especially when sombre, inhuman, ascetic, 
and sordidly selfish ; or else elaborately speculative and unpractical, 
he had scant respect. On the other hand he is taken with those 
aspects of it which appear kindly, gentle and humane, or else beauti- 
ful and artistic. That he appreciated simplicity in religious service 
is shown by the advice of Archbishop Turpin to the dying Orlando. 
For when the great Paladin was about to utter a formal confession of 
faith previous to receiving absolution, Turpin prevents him by say- 
ing ' A single Pater Noster or Miserere, or if you will a Peccavi is 
enough.' His chief conception of Deity, as we have seen, is illimit- 
able love; and this single idea is of itself sufficient to dispel sacerdotal 
terrorism, and make the Inferno of Dante and the Church a figment 
more insubstantial than the most shadowy of its suffering shades. 
Love being his only notion of Deity, his sole idea of human duty cor- 
respondingly resolves itself into benevolence. There is a kindliness 
in his very banter, and a tenderness in his severest raillery, which 

1 Canto xxvi., Str. 85 : — 

1 E quel Signor, che la mia legge adora, 
Prego, se '1 prego dovessi valere, 
Chi vi perdoni, e che ciascun si penti, 
Che ristorar nun vi poeso altrimenti.' 



1 60 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

> render Pulci the most loveable among the great poets of the Renais- 
sance. The editor of the Parnaso Italiano, speaking of this quality, 
says * that the student of Italian literature will adore Ariosto and 
admire Tasso but will love Pulci.' l How far he carried his jesting 
Skepticism beyond the fair limits of religious cant and conventional 
pretence it is not easy to say. If he carried it to the extreme excess 
with which he is sometimes charged, we must remember that liber- 
tinism, religious and ethical, was a characteristic both of his age and 
of the society in which he moved. The most irreligious among his 
minor works are the sonnets in which he ridicules unsparingly the 
clergy, ecclesiastical miracles, the methods and conclusions of meta- 
physics, but even here Pulci is more anti-clerical than anti-Christian, 
and it is only fair to accept, as a * set off ' against his sonnets, the 
work which bears the name of his confessions, wherein he recanted 
some of his freer opinions. That the author of the Morgante should 
have suffered some inconvenience from the promulgation of his toler- 
ant free-thinking opinions is only what we might have expected. He 
died at the commencement of the reaction which set in about the 
close of the fifteenth century against the Renaissance, and his body 
was refused admission into consecrated ground ; but Pulci's fame as 
the Father of Italian Romantic Poetry was not likely to suffer from 
' such unworthy exhibitions of sacerdotal malignity. 

I have chosen Machiavelli as the statesman of the 
ve ' Renaissance to illustrate the combined effect of all 
those influences, religious, humanistic, naturalistic, philosophical and 
literary which characterize it. His name and writings will supply 
us with an approximate answer to the following problem : Given a 
period of Free-thought in which religious restraints have become 
weakened, in which ancient sources of authority, political as well as 
social, are impaired, in which literature has become libertine, in 
which natural rights and instincts assert themselves in an imperious 
and unregulated manner, in which individualism has acquired a 
somewhat obtrusive character — what will be the aim and teaching of 
a politician who is himself the creature of all these influences ; but 
who, to maintain the solidarity of political and social institutions, is 
compelled to react against them ? We are therefore adopting, both 
with Machiavelli and Ouicciardini, a different standpoint from that 
to which the literary leaders of the Renaissance have introduced us. 
Our present attitude to the Italy of the fifteenth century is that of 

1 Leigh Hunt, Stories, etc, i. p. 297, who adds, ' And all minds in which 
lovingness produces love will agree with him. 1 



General Causes and Leaders. 1 6 1 

thoughtful statesmen, philosophical historians and practised diploma- 
tists — men who apply the culture of their time to questions affecting 
the organizations of nations, churches and societies, where free- 
thought is not a mere individual peculiarity, but a principle under- 
lying their policy, and colouring their conceptions of contemporary 
history. The change is the same as that which the student of our 
Elizabethan age experiences who turns from the study of Shake- 
spere, and Ben Jonson to the pages of Bacon and Sir Walter Raleigh. 
Machiavelli's life is interesting as being in an unusual degree the 
practical embodiment of his writings. In its various vicissitudes, in 
the way he encountered them, in the motives and principles which 
regulated his action, and which he lays bare with cynical indifference, 
may be read the vivified personification of the rules of human conduct 
contained in his works. His life however we must pass over. As to 
his character, its chief points will be brought out sufficiently for our 
purpose, by considering his attitude : — 

1. To the Renaissance and Pagandom. 

2. To the Church and Christianity. 

3. To Political Science. 

4. To Skepticism. 

i. Machiavelli is not ordinarily classed among the pure humanists J 
of the Renaissance. This is partly because he belongs to the later 
stages of the movement, and partly because his excessive reverence* 
for antiquity obscured his perception of the real significance of its / 
revival. He almost entirely ignores the literature of the Renais- 
sance. Its foremost leaders, Petrarca and Boccaccio, are hardly 
mentioned by him. The author whom he most prizes, as his Italian 
master, is Dante ; though his imitations of him occasionally take the 
form of burlesque. 1 He displays little or no interest in the scientific 
progress, or the artistic revival, which marked the Italy of the six- 
teenth century. He is indifferent to the great geographical discoveries 
which then aroused the attention of Europe, and in which his friend 
Guicciardini manifested such enthusiastic interest. On the other 
hand he is a devout disciple of ancient thought, an impassioned ad- 
mirer of every form of classical oulture. From the very commence- -\ 
ment of his education he read with zest every Latin author knowni C 
to his contemporaries, and also studied the philosophers and his-| ' 
torians of Greece. His works are imitations, often servile, of what 
he esteemed the best models of ancient literature. His comedies are 
adaptations of those of Plautus and Terence. His comic and satiric 
writings are based on Lucian and Apuleius. His histories are 

1 As e.g. in his Asino d?oro. 
VOL. I. M 



162 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

modelled on Livy, Tacitus and Polybius, and his political science is 
largely indebted to Greek and Roman history. Incidental quotations 
occur in his writings even of the then less known classical authors, 
("such as Pindar and Euripides. His mind is impregnated with Pagan 
\ideas and opinions, just as his language is moulded by classical turns 
of expression and grammatical forms. The Renaissance, for him, was 
not the renewal of the old life, in the same manner as the child is the 
offspring of its parent, combining sameness of type with difference 
of individuality — the spirit of antiquity recast in the mould of the 
modern world ; it was rather the veritable * resurrection of the dead ' 
— the actual resuscitation of ancient institutions, laws and modes of 
thought. Machiavelli's worship of antiquity, for it was little else, is 
instructively depicted in the oft quoted letter in which he describes 
his daily pursuits when in exile. Writing from his rural retreat, 
which was also his patrimony, he tells his friend Vettori how he is in 
the habit of rising with the sun, and going into one of his plantations 
which he is having cut down. There he remains two hours examin- 
ing the work done on the evening before and amusing himself with 
the woodmen, who have always a crow to pluck either among them- 
selves or with their neighbours. Quitting the wood, he proceeds to 
a fountain, and from thence to his paretajo, 1 with a book under his 
arm, either Dante or Petrarca, or one of those poets called minor, as 
Tibullus or Ovid. He there reads of their amorous passions and recalls 
his own. After enjoying for a time these pleasant reveries, he next 
wends his way to the roadside inn, and chats with the passers by, 
asking the news of their several countries. Thereby he learns a 
great number of things ; besides which he loves to observe the diver- 
sity which exists in the tastes and ideas of men. 

When the dinner hour arrives he sits down with his troop (his 
wife and children), and eats those provisions which his poor farm 
and wretched patrimony produces. Dinner over, he retires to the 
inn, where commonly he finds the host, a butcher, a miller, and two 
charcoal-burners. With these companions he peasantizes himself in 
playing a game of cricca or tric-trac. Thence arise a thousand dis- 
putes accompanied by angry words, so that their voices are heard as 
far as San Gasciano. Employed in these ignoble occupations, Machia- 
velli prevents his brain from getting mouldy. When evening comes 
he returns to his house, he enters his study, but on the threshold ho 
divests himself of his peasant clothes covered with mud and dirt, 
and dons his official garments; and thus decently attired, he enters 

1 A favourite pastime with the rural gentry of Tuscany. For a full ac- 
count of it, see A. F. Artaud's Machiavd % vol. i., p. 254, n. 1. 



) 



General Causes and Leaders. 163 

the ancient courts of the men of old. 1 Received by them with 
affection he feasts himself on the nourishment they supply — the only 
food which agrees with him and for which he is born. He does not 
fear to speak with them, and (this is noteworthy) to demand the 
reason of their actions. They, full of courtesy as they are, answer 
his enquiries. Thus employed, he does not feel, even for four hour.*, 
any ennui, he forgets every source of disturbance, he no longer fears 
poverty, and death terrifies him not. He feels himself entirely 
transported in their society; and as Dante says 2 there can be no 
knowledge unless one retains what one has acquired, he is careful to 
take notes of what is most remarkable in their conversation. . . . 
I have quoted this passage at length because it not only throws a 
light on the intensity of his passion for ancient literature, and his 
method of studying it, but also affords us some glimpses into his per- 
sonal character. At first sight we are naturally reminded of the 
half-studious, half-desultory life of Montaigne. There is in both cases 
the same relish for the conversation, tastes and amusements of 
peasants, the same contempt for mere social distinction ; but in Ma- 
chiavelli'8 case the philosophical serenity of which he boasts is only 
half earnest. Montaigne voluntarily retired from the society of the 
court, and political affairs, to the seclusion of his study and his rural 
occupations ; Machiavelli's retirement, on the other hand, was alto- J 
gether involuntary ; and he was miserable and restless so long as his / 
enforced leisure lasted. Montaigne, in short, was a philosopher pure 
and simple; Machiavelli a born diplomatist and politician, with 
philosophical and literary tastes superinduced on that basis. Indeed 
a phrase in the passage just quoted, in which he avows that his 
researches into classical authors consisted of an investigation into ) 
human motives, is an incidental proof that Machiavelli's interest in/ 
antiquity was not wholly or even mainly that of the scholar—it was 
rather that of the earnest student of men and social institutions. 
The purport of this remark is amply attested by all his political and 
historical works.* Everywhere there is manifested the same scope 
and purpose — the supreme desire to watch those motive influences by 
which men are governed, societies formed and consolidated, and 
political power administered. Hence the field of heathen antiquity 

1 * Povero Niccolo ! ' exclaims Professor Settembrini in reference to this trait, 
' ti fanno an dare a studio come gl' Inglesi vanno a tavola in abito nero e. 
cravatta bianca.' Lezioni di Lett. Ital., ii. 136 note. 

1 Par<*d, Canto v. : — 

' Apri la mente a quel ch' io ti paleso 
E formalvi entro ; che non fa scienza, 
Senza lo riteuere, avere inteso. 1 



1 64 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Machiavelli employed as a collection of precedents and illustrations, 
to be applied, so far as difference of circumstances permitted, to the 
political events and persons of his own time. It was a garden of 
simples whence he might cull those best adapted to the diseases and 
emergencies of Italian states in the sixteenth century. ..As a conse- 
quence of the excess of political over literary interest, in his classical as 
well as his general studies, the culture of Machiavelli always partook 
of a certain narrowness both of conception and sympathy. His hu- 
manism was almost totally destitute of what I should call the Hellenic 
elements of the Renaissance, i.e. the love of speculation for its own 
sake, the cultivation of truth, wisdom, and in a word, intellectual 
perfection, regarded as attributes of the individual rather than as the 
qualities of a political unit, the artistic feeling for and perception of 
beauty — which we find in the leading minds both of ancient Greece 
and of the Italian Renaissance, as e.g. Petrarca and Boccaccio. The 
only portion of Greek history for which Machiavelli seems to have felt 
any enthusiasm was the short-lived glory of Athens ; though he was 
too short-sighted to appreciate adequately the combination of political 
freedom with high culture which was the distinguishing feature of 
' that oasis in human history. But it was on ancient Rome, her 
\ government, institutions and sovereignty, that Machiavelli lavished 
his warmest admiration. For the conduct of her leading spirits, 
whether Imperial or Republican, for the genius and strategy of her 
successful generals, for the unequalled prudenoe and administrative 
f talent of her foremost statesmen — in a word, for the combination of 
I irresistible power and unscrupulous cunning which marked her 
V history, he felt the profoundest reverence. It was the embodiment 
in actual history of the political principles he himself advocated, as 
being imperiously demanded by the exigences of his own time.. 
Regarded from this standpoint, the Renaissance was to Machiavelli - 
' a political movement, er rather congeries of movements, all tending in 
the same direction. The revival of ancient learning and of ancient 
freedom of speculation were subordinated in his estimation to the 
revivification of the maxims of statecraft, and rules of conduct, that 
animated the leaders and influenced the people of Old Rome. The 
ideal object of the excitation and stir in human thought, as conceived 
in his own warm and patriotic imagination, was not indeed the 
establishment of the Universal Holy Roman Empire of which Dante 
and Petrarca dreamed. Machiavelli's acquaintance with politics was 
of too practical a kind to permit the indulgence of such fantastic 
aspirations. His more restrained fancy and larger experience were 
confined to the expectation, or rather the dim hope, of witnessing the 
/ formation and consolidation of a United Italy — the worthy peer of 

v 



General Causes and Leaders. 165 

the best of existing European sovereignties. Unhappily this day- 
dream of a genuine patriot was not destined to be realized for more 
than three centuries after his death. 

But although Machiavelli's interest in antiquity, and his classical 
studies, were those of a politician, it would be wrong to assume that 
his general character was uncoloured by the spirit of Pagandom ; on 
the contrary, notwithstanding an overt profession of Christianity, his 
conceptions both of theology and morality were largely leavened by 
the opinions of the ancients. His Deity was only partially the God 
of Christians — the sovereign of Olympus shares to an equal extent his 
reverence. The general idea underlying the name is with him, as 
with most Italian thinkers of his time, mixed up with conceptions of 
chance, fortune, fate, etc. The virtues he admires, and which he 
puts in the forefront of his political teachings, are almost exclusively 
those of Roman Paganism— the attributes of human strength, cou- 
rage and endurance, self-reliance and audacity, qualified in needful 
conjuncture by treachery, cunning and duplicity. For the gentler 
passive attributes pertaining to Christianity, Machiavelli cherished, \ 
as we shall find, an undisguised contempt ; though it is not easy to ' 
reconcile this feeling with his equally undoubted appreciation of 
Christ's own teaching before it had been corrupted by ecclesias- 
ticism. His principles were further those of Roman Paganism in 
the respect that he was an unswerving worshipper of success, and 
thought that the end justified the means. Of a similar kind was the 
feature which he shared with all his skeptical contemporaries — I 
mean the limitation of his thoughts, interests and aspirations to the . 
present world. To a great extent also he is guilty of substituting / 
earthly renown for the Christian doctrine of immortality. Other 
aspects of his Paganism will meet us further on. 

ii. Turning to Machiavelli's attitude to the Church, we may ob- 
serve that it resembles his standpoint to Paganism in being alto- 
gether political. He has no conception of, or at least no interest ) 
in, religioiTas a mode of philosophy or speculation. He is utterly 
indifferent to any relation it may be supposed to have to abstract 
truth. With him it is a mere question of practical utility and 
political science. Considered from that standpoint his opinion of 
Christianity, nay of every religion, is eminently favourable. He is 
fully persuaded that no state can exist without the binding force ) 
of sacred and supernatural sanctions; and he is no less certainly 
convinced that vice and irreligion entail the inevitable ruin of a 
community. 1 These general principles he affirms again and again. 

1 Di$c. y i. chap. 11 (Op., ii. p. 65). ' E come la osservanxa de lculto Divino 6 
cagione della grandezza delle Republiche ; coal il dispregio di quello 6 cagione 



1 66 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

But religion, to be perfect in his eyes, ought to have a directly 
political purpose. Its interests, sanctions, deterrents ought to 
be so directed as to produce a feeling of patriotism. It is because 
Roman polytheism attained this object in a manner so admirable 
that Machiavelli commends it, as his ideal of a politician's re- 
ligion. False and idolatrous as it intrinsically was, it ministered 
to the political aspirations and destiny of the people. It was inter- 
mingled with every act and object of public life. By the sacred 
motive-power it supplied men became disinterested patriots, zealous 
statesmen, invincible generals and brave soldiers. It formed the 
vitalizing principle of the whole community — the salt of public life. 
The real founder of the Roman power was not Romulus, but Numa. 1 
The former only gave it laws, the latter gave it a religion and worship. 
The first taught his subjects war; the other, refinement, gentle- 
ness and the arts of social life. The most illustrious of all rulers of 
men have been those who knew how to combine the sacredness of 
priestly functions with the material power of secular rule, as e.g. 
Solon and Lycurgus. 2 

In the sixteenth century there was only one ecclesiastical institu- 
tion that could claim the position of the religion of Italy — the Papacy. 
The relation of this spiritual power to the various Italian states, its 
influence on the political and ethical principles of the people, were 
subjects which were continually obtruded on the attention of 
Machiavelli in his political and diplomatic career. The result of 
this observation in his case, as in that of Guicciardini, was a profound 
conviction of the baneful effects of Romanism regarded from a politi- 
cal point of view. The Church, he maintains, had ruined Italy, and 
grafted upon her people every kind of vice and turpitude. 8 Instead 
of acting as its ostensible mission suggested, as a peace-making 
coalescing agent, unifying the various states into which the country 
was divided, it fostered their mutual jealousies, and stirred up intes- 
tine warfare among them, in order to profit by their divisions. The 
example of greed, selfishness and rapacity it thus promulgated sank 
deeply into the character of the people; nor was the open con- 
tempt for their religion on the part of the clergy a less powerful 
source of incalculable mischief. The guardians of public and private 
virtue had become in no respect better than open purveyors of vice. 
The logical effect of some of the doctrines of Romanism in producing 

della rovina di esse. 1 (The Edition of his collected works here referred to is 
that of Milan, 1805, in 10 volumes.) 

1 Discorsi, book i., chap. 11. * Discorri, book i., chap. 10. 

8 Dicorti Liv., book i., ch. 12. Nourisson in his Machiavel has attempted to 
reply to this indictment. See p. 257. 



General Causes and Leaders. 167 

a contempt for morality was a subject which Machiavelli had studied 
both as a politician and a dramatist. Few more powerful repre- 
sentations of the perverse casuistry by which the profligate cleric of 
the sixteenth century was accustomed to justify his vices exist than 
the characters of Brother Timothy in the ' Mandragora ' or Brother 
Alberic in the ' anonymous Comedy,' both prototypes of Moliere's 
Tartuffe. 

That Machiavelli's contempt for Papal Christianity never passed 
into an open rupture with the system, or even a denial of its main 
teachings, is clear both from his writings and from the scenes that 
took place around his deathbed. The speculative doctrines of 
Romanism he did not so much contradict as ignore. They only came 
within his scope as a student of humanity and social institutions; and 
it was not easy to predicate the effect which the dogma, e.g. of the 
Trinity, would have on a man's feelings, duties and aspirations re- 
garded merely as a citizen. The pretended thaumaturgic powers of 
the priesthood, ecclesiastical miracles, etc., he ridiculed, though he was 
not, any more than Guicciardini, Benvenuto Cellini and other eminent 
contemporaries, free from the imputation of superstition. But in 
truth it was not to Christianity, but to its Papal development, that 
Machiavelli was opposed. Like others among our free-thinkers, he 
recognised the truth and power of the Gospel while he characteristic- 
ally makes its main excellence political or social. These are his 
words on the subject : — " La quale Religioue se ne' Principi della 
Repubblica Cristiana si fusse mantenuta, secondo che dal datore d' essa 
ne fu ordinato, sarrebbero gli Stati e le Ropubbliche Crist iane piu. 
unite e piu felici assai ch' elle non sono." l Of course the prima 
facie intention of these words is a transference to political states and 
institutions of the fundamental law of Christian brotherhood ; but in 
the case of Machiavelli they imply more than this. They evince an 
accurate perception of other attributes of Christ's teaching. Like 
other Republican legists, he saw that the individualism which lay at 
the root of that teaching, and was implied in the immediate relation 
of every man to God, was itself an invaluable guarantee for freedom 
and political independence. Probably also he laid stress on the moral 
purity of the Gospel ; for he was undoubtedly of opinion that virtue, 
if it possessed no other good tendencies or results, was a valuable 
means both of attaining and preserving liberty : it was therefore, like 
religion, a useful political agent, and this was the highest function, 
in Machiavelli's estimation, that any person or attribute could pos- 
sess. Doubtless also Machiavelli, who was a true hero worshipper, 
was impressed by the grandeur of Christ's personality — the wonder- 

1 Dicorsi Lit:, i., ch. 12. Opere, vol. ii. p. 69. 



1 68 7 he Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

ftil sway he exercised over the minds of men. Those who mani- 
fested that faculty, by means of force or craft, he regarded with 
reverence; and in his lucid interval. , he was not so utterly indifferent 
to the superiority of spiritual or moral forces as to withhold the tribute 
due to them when they proved the equals of physical power or 
intellectual astuteness. His well known depreciation of Christianity 
contrasted with Roman Paganism as laying too much stress upon 
the passive virtues, refers in my opinion to its Papal development. 
The Papacy had insisted on submissiveness and intellectual abnega- 
gation in order to further her own sacerdotal pretensions and her 

r selfish aggrandisement. Machiavelli was not opposed to humility 
and gentleness as religious virtues, provided they were not carried to 
a suicidal excess. This is shown by his eulogy of SS. Dominic and 
Francis for having brought back Christianity to its primary form, 
as well as by his opinion that the fundamentals of Christian teaching 
should be interpreted in the direction of manly energy, not in that of 
slavish idleness. 1 On the whole, while believing in the efficacy of 
religion as a political instrument, and appreciating the merits of 
original Christianity, Machiavelli was a disbeliever as to its later 
developments. Perhaps we ought not to attach too much importance 
even to his admiration of Christ's teaching. Any religionist who 

~ could move men was certain of his deference. The terms e.g. in 
which he speaks of Christ he applies also to Savonarola. The latter 
too, wielded an enormous mastery over men to which Machiavelli did 
willing homage. As to whether the eloquent friar of San Marco 
was right or wrong he would offer no opinion. A mountebank, who 
could stir and guide the vacillating mob of Forence as Savonarola 
did would have been equally certain of Machiavelli's respect. 

iii. But our chief concern with Machiavelli, as a skeptic, relates 
j to his political principles. These were based, in his own case, as 

/ they must be in every similar case, on his estimate of humanity and 
^ [ social existence. As is well known, this is painfully derogatory and 

* pessimistic. If be did not affirm, in the spirit of a writer of our 
own times, that the world was tenanted by so many millions ' mostly 
fools,' it was only because he conceived that there was among them 

.' an equal proportion of knaves. The source whence he derived this 
depreciatory estimate of his fellow-men had no relation, as in Calvin's 

/■case, to theological dogma. His authorities were twofold — history 

. and experience. On the one hand he studied the records of ancient 
history, on the other he reflected, in his customary cold cynical 

1 ' La Religione Cristiana avendoci nostra la verita e la vera via, deve inter- 
pietarsi secoodo la virtu e non secondo 1' ozio.' 



General Causes and Leaders. 169 

manner, on the political affairs in which he had been mixed up both 
as secretary and ambassador of the Florentine Republic. His 
historical investigations did not induce Skepticism as to the veracity 
of the records. He did not rise from the perusal of Tacitus, Polybius 
and Livy with the healthy distrust of Dr. Johnson : * Our know- 
ledge of history is confined to a few facts and dates —the colouring 
being conjectural. 1 Still less did he concur in Horace Wapole's 
emphatic verdict : * Tell me not of history, for that I know to be 
false.' Machiavelli'8 inference was, practically, the far more mis- 
chievous one. * Tell me not of humanity for that I know to be false.' 
Throughout the whole of history the same melancholy phenomena 
seemed to his morbid vision to present themselves with unvarying 
sameness. Everywhere and always the weak were the prey of the 
strong. The more powerful and astute the ruler, the greater the 
sway he exercised. The same truth held good in war. It was a 
question not of truth, justice and humanity, but altogether of 
superiority of force and strategy. Providence to him, as to Napoleon, 
was ever on the side of the strongest battalions. Nor were these 
lessons of the past likely to lose their efficacy by a consideration of 
the events of his own time. Out of the commotions and conflicts of 
different Italian states one truth emerged with unmistakable dis- 
tinctness ; and that was that the success of rulers stood in a direct 
relation to the material force at their command, and the skill and 
address by which that force was wielded. The result, as a matter 
of course, was ethical and social skepticism of the most marked 
kind — the enouncement of principles which have consigned the 
name of Machiavelli to an Inferno which is likely to be as eternal 
as literature itself. His work named the Prince is thus an exposi- 
tion of his principles as a statesman and as a skeptic. 1 The ideal 
Ruler therein depicted was an incongruous combination of lion and 
fox. His subjects were either to be caressed or destroyed. The 
relation posited between them was not altogether unlike that between 
the wolf and the sheep. All notions of humanity, gentleness and 
mutual sympathy were regarded, in relation to the object aimed, at 
as little better than sentimentalism. The main exception was that 
the ruler might employ kindness instead of coercion, and moral instead 
of material persuasion, always provided that the latter methods were 
found equally efficacious. The chief consideration for him was 

1 The true significance of this work, both with respect to the author, and 
to the political theories and history of modern Europe, has recently received 
much new light from students of Machiavelli: see, especially, Villari's Life 
and Times, Eng Trans., vol. ii. pp. 200-248; and Mr. Burd's new edition of 
11 Principe, with Introductions by himself and Lord Acton. 



1 70 Tlie Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

success, clear, certain, speedy and permanent — all the rest was matter 
of detail and comparatively unimportant. 

Attempts have been made by various apologists to defenu 
Machiavelli's political Skepticism. Some have asserted that, like 
Montaigne, he was actuated merely by a spirit of excessive candour ; 
others that his intention was to describe what men were accustomed, 
V as distinct from what they ought, to do. But a more recondite method 
is that suggested by Rousseau, who transforms his maxims of un- 
scrupulous tyranny into an ironical defence of liberty and republic- 
anism. According to this theory his advice to the despot how to 
coerce and enslave his subjects is really intended to show the patriot 
the road to freedom. Unfortunately however the exhortations are 
too direct, too precise, too unqualified and too frequent to allow of such 
ingenious hypotheses. Besides, as Macaulay in his well known essay 
has pointed out, obliquity of moral vision is a feature pertaining not to 
one but to all his writings. The same writer adds, ' we doubt whether 
it would be possible to find in all the many volumes of his composi- 
tions a single expression indicating that dissimulation and treachery 
(had ever struck him as being discreditable.' No, whatever reproba- 
tion may attach to the fact, Machiavelli's recommendation of political 
duplicity and tergiversation, of unscruplous and ruthless cruelty, is 
as sincere as the counsel of a pious father-confessor to some weeping 
penitent. There is even a conscious innocency in his inculcation of 
the most flagrant breaches of trust, honour and fidelity, which, if it 
cannot avail to sanction them, serves to prove the good faith of the 
teacher. Nor is this surprising. Machiavelli's Prince is a genuine 
and unexaggerated type of the rulers of his time. It has been said 
.. that he derived its maxims, as an immediate source, from a contempla- 
tion of the duplicity, cunning and remorseless treachery of Caesar 
Borgia. It is truer, I think, to say that the policy he enunciated, and 
Borgia practised, was derived from the scheming ambition and per- 
fidious cruelty of the Church itself. I wonder no one has written an 
apology for Caesar Borgia grounded on his ecclesiastical education 
and surroundings. Certainly no treachery was ever planned by that 
historical monstrosity, no duplicity practised, no crime perpetrated, 
but had its counterpart in principles and acts sanctioned by the selfish 
ambition of the Holy See. His own nefarious life, the lives of other 
Italian princes, hardly less criminal, were only a transference to secular 
politics of the mingled astuteness and cruelty which had received their 
blasphemous beatification at the hands of the vicegerents of Christ. 
Lying, duplicity, cruelty, cupidity had long been elevated to the 
rank of theological virtues, and all that Borgia did, or Machiavelli 
inculcated, was to pursue that policy in secular matters, to its logical 



I 



General Causes and Leaders. 171 

outcome. Nor was this transference difficult. There was no such 
distinction in the minds of Renaissance thinkers as would have made 
the principles accepted in one inapplicable to the other. The temporal 
Empire was held to be, in its foundation and design, as sacred as the 
Papacy. This conning of his lesson from the precepts and example 
of the Church explains the nature of the reception which his con- 
temporaries awarded to Machiavelli's Prince. That which especially 
arrested their attention in the work was not so much the character of 
the teaching as the brutal cynicism with which it was avowed. That 
cruelty and treachery might be legitimately used in inculcating 
dogma, or for the aggrandisement of the Church, was a long accepted 
dictum of Papal policy. That a similar policy was adapted to the 
establishment of a despotism over the temporal interests of man had 
been experimentally demonstrated by many Italian princes. But 
neither the spiritual nor the secular ruler had ever cared to divulge, 
in the form of overt propositions, their real mainsprings of action. 
This was just what Machiavelli did. The measures which Pope and 
Prince had adopted for the complete subjugation of their subjects — 
all the hideous and intricate mechanism of unlimited despotisms — he 
exposed to the open gaze of the world with almost the conscious 
pride of a patentee who has discovered an useful labour- or life-saving 
machine. 

It was not therefore the novelty of Machiavelli's teaching that 
arrested the attention and excited the indignation of contemporaries. 
They were rather repelled by the audacious and cynical frankness with 
which the Florentine secretary disclosed the principles and manners 
of Italian potentates. For the first time dogmas and maxims of state 
policy to which all Italians had long been taught to bow, wore 
revealed in their true repulsive character. Machiavelli was the 
unconscious Rabelais or Hogarth of his age, describing with an 
incisive pen but deliberate volition, its manifold corruptions. No 
doubt the mode in which he accomplished this throws some doubt on 
his real character. All his critics are unanimous in pointing out the 
contradictions of which he is the centre. Regarded as a man, not as ) 
a politician, he was an admirer of political and religious liberty. This ' 
has the twofold attestation of the testimony of his friends and his 
writings. On the other hand, it is equally clear that he lent himself 
to schemes of political ambition and tyranny, while his Prince is the J 
vade mecum of the unscrupulous despot. This contradiction seems to 
me solved by what I term his moral Skepticism. Machiavelli is a cold, 
unimpassioned cynical spectator of the game of human existence. A 
believer in the maxim ' Homo homini lupus/ he is not very solicitous 
as to what portions of humanity are destined to be the devourers or 



172 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

what the devoured. If communities, whether secular or ecclesiastical, 
can extort liberty from their rulers, by all manner of means let them 
do so. Abstractedly the condition of freedom is highest, and Re- 
publics are better forms of government than the irresponsible caprices 
of tyrants. On the other hand, if the ruler no matter with what 
unprincipled astuteness or cruelty, can cajole, or coerce his subjects, 
he must be an imbecile if he does not do so. Thus as Machiavelli's 
religious deity is Chance or Fortune, so his political god is Power. 
He is an advocate of ' the good old rule/ 

* The simple plan, 
That they should take who have the power, 
And they should keep who can.' 

This well-worn maxim comprises in fact the sum and substance of 
his political philosophy. 

iv. Machiavelli is therefore, as I have called him, a moral Skeptic. 
As such he is closely related to Augustine and Calvin. Starting 
from a political standpoint, he is also a believer in human depravity. 
He who legislates for human societies ought, to use his candid and 
generous rule, ' presupporre tutti gli uomini essere cattivi,' This is, 
^indisputably, the basis of his own system. He is an utter disbeliever 
in the existence and worth of virtue, self-sacriiice, humility, and of 
other qualities which impart honour and dignity to humanity. For 
him man is a compound of weakness, folly and knavery, intended by 
Nature to be the dupe of the cunning, and the prey of the despotic 
ruler. The regulative and restoratory power which Calvin finds in 
supernatural grace, Machiavelli looks no higher for than the un- 
principled astuteness and the pitiless tyranny of the political 
governor. False and demoralizing as is the Calvinistic conception 
of humanity, that of Machiavelli is much more so. If Calvin's 
( disbelief in all inherent goodness or virtue tended to undermine the 
V foundations of conscious human merit, responsibility and self respect, 
he gave back a principle which, however exaggerated or one-sided, 
served, in many cases, as a potent substitute for the impaired motives; 
and had the advantage of making its proof consist in personal ex- 
perience. Whereas Machiavelli — and the same remark applies to 
Hobbes — after undermining all sources of human freedom and inde- 
pendence, delivered man over to political power — a weak, helpless, 
imbecile slave. The logical outcome of Machiavellianism may 
therefore be defined as Skeptical Pessimism or Pessimistic Skepti- 
cism. A world in which all model rulers were of the vulpo-leonine 
type, in which men were either fools or knaves, in which physical 
force and intellectual cunning are the chief cardinal virtues, in which 






General Causes and Leaders. 173 

there is no room for goodness, gentleness, love, patience, humility 
— the disinterested and benevolent attributes of Christianity — had 
certainly better never have existed, or having by some mischance 
come into existence, the sooner it were again reabsorbed into its 
primal uncreated nothingness, the better for all interests really worth 
consideration. That this spirit of despair of humanity, this moody 
contemplation of the universe as a kind of gambler's chance, is 
deeply impressed upon the literature of the Renaissance, no student 
of it will choose to deny. But the phenomenon does not appear t*A 
me attributable, as the effect of a cause, to the intellectual activity / 
and Free-thought of the period. It is rather social than philosophical ; 
and may be ascribed to the undermining of all ethical and religious 
principles on the part of the Church. Indirectly, also, it may be 
regarded as another phase of the disappointment which appeared 
then to await every department of human quest. Italian society 
seemed to have despaired of virtue and moral perfection, as its philo- 
sophy did of indubitable truth. At the same time we must bear in 
mind that Machiavellian Skepticism— accompanied by its correlate, 
an excessive display of the instincts of despotism — is by no means 
an uncommon feature among eminent politicians. Whether it is 
that they acquire their knowledge of human nature 'at home,' or that 
a large experience of the motives, and guiding principles of mankind, 
has a tendency, in persons whose intellectual perceptions are allowed 
to over-ride their feelings, to engender a contemptuous estimate of 
them, regarded as the pawns of the political chess-board, we need 
not now ask. Could the latter be proved it would show — and 
Machiavelli is a case in point — that enlarged research into men's 
motives, ways and actions, induces social Skepticism, just as investi- 
gation into their knowledge induces intellectual unbelief. Certainly 
this is the marked characteristic of men like Cromwell, Frederick 
the Great, Napoleon the First and Bismarck and other champions 
of the gospel of success. Whatever the religious or intellectual 
beliefs of these men, they distrust their own kind. They start on 
their several missions with the foregone conclusions of human 
weakness, venality and corruption. They are skeptics of the race. 
Napoleon once said of politics, ' il n'a pas d'entrailles ' ; and Professor 
Settembrini has well remarked, 1 apropos of Machiavelli's statecraft 
the science maybe likened to the traditional form of cherubs, 'all 
head and wings and no body; all brain and energy and no heart.' For 
my part, I regard the Skepticism that takes away from humanity all 
goodness and unselfishness, which undermines the mutual confidence 

1 Lezioni di Letteratura Ital., vol. ii. p. 184. 



fl 



1 74 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

I that forms the connecting link of all social existence, as not only the 
( most unsustainable in reason but the most demoralizing in practice. 
i Disbelief in man, as an unit of social life, appears to me a far greater 
offence than doubt of Deity, and misanthropy, in that sense, a more 
mischievous principle than Atheism. The reasoning of the Apostle 
which bases belief in God upon belief in Man, and asserts the divine 
nature of human affections, seems indeed borne out by the instincts 
of humanity. This is instructively shown, in the case of Machiavelli, 
by the general verdict which affirms him to have been an Atheist. 
As an assertion of direct unbelief this is untrue. Nowhere does he 
deny, or even question, the existence of Deity; nowhere does he 
profess to deny the chief verities of the Christian faith. Literally 
and explicitly he was far from being an Atheist ; but virtually and 
implicitly, his professed and contemptuous indifference for whatever 
is divine and Godlike in the relations of men to each other, or in the 
providential government of the world, are equivalent to pronounced 
Atheism. The world of humanity, which he surveys with cold 
comprehensive glance, is a den of raging wild beasts. Its actual 
governor is no more reliable or permanent agent than chance. Its 
divine order and progress is mere indecisive motion from one 
Nowhere to another. The universe, in a word, is a moral chaos : 
infinitely more revolting and painful to contemplate than the greatest 
physical cataclysm conceivable. 

But, while reprobating Machiavelli's conclusions, we must admit 
that they are not utterly destitute of justification. His political 
system, notwithstanding its basis of Skepticism and distrust, was not 
unsuited to the period that gave it birth. Unusual evils demand, or 
seem to demand, summary and violent remedies ; and the condition, 
political and social, of Italy in the sixteenth century might well have 
caused anxiety to the thoughtful politician. What means should be 
adopted, he might have asked, to introduce discipline into social 
manners, and order and legality into political institutions. Reason- 
ing from phenomena before him, and accepting as a precedent the 
general course of Italian politics, he could only find the requisite 
agencies in material force and unscrupulous cunning. All the ills 
from which his country suffered he considered to be owing to its 
partition into so many separate states, and to the perpetual divisions 
and internecine strife thereby engendered. The continual inter- 
vention of foreigners, the mischievous interference of the Papacy, 
helped largely to intensify this unhappy state of things. Machia- 
velli longed for the advent of some deliverer l — a man with indomit- 

1 See the eloquent passage in the last chapter of the Prince^ which Pro- 



General Causes and Leaders. 175 

able will and iron hand, who might reconstruct and unify the whole 
country. The means by which he accomplished this purpose were 
of no importance. He might wade to his throne through seas of 
blood. He might be guilty of the foulest treachery and corruption. 
He might exercise the most unlimited and tyrannical sway over the 
minds and bodies of his subjects. His reign might be pregnant with 
national demoralization for centuries afterwards. 1 All this mattered 
little, provided Italy could attain to strength and independence as 
a great European power. I need hardly add that these aspirations, 
however defensible on the ground of patriotism, as that virtue was 
regarded by Machiavelli, were entirely chimerical. Not only were 
the conditions and elements of Italian politics in the sixteenth cen- 
tury too antagonistic to allow coherence, but the position of Italy 
and her past history in relation to surrounding nations, rendered the 
idea, at that time, little better than a grotesque absurdity. Moreover 
there is no reason to suppose that Machiavelli contemplated an 
Italian despotism as a political finality. All human societies and 
organizations were in his opinion in a chronic state of unstable 
equilibrium. Each had its natural periods of birth and growth, 
decay and death. And this Herakletean flux and reflux was un- 
influenced by moral considerations. ' Virtue,' said he, ' produces 
repose, repose engenders inactivity, inactivity disorder, and disorder 
ruin.' Similarly from ruin comes order, and from order virtue, or 
as he expresses the same sentiment in his Asino d 1 oro — 

( Vedi le stelle e '1 ciel, vedi la luna 
Vedi gli altri pianeti andare errando 
Or alto or basso, senza requie alcuna. 
Quando il ciel vedi tenebroso, e quando 
Lucido e chiaro ; e cosi nulla in terra 
Vien nello stato suo perseverando. 1 f 

Without insisting that this conception of alternating opposites is 
necessarily skeptical, it is easy to see that it lends itself readily to 

fessor Settembrini, calls a * National Hymn,' in which Machiavelli invokes 
the Future Deliverer of Italy. It ends with the stirring words of Petrarca— 

* Virtil contro al furore 
Prendera P arme, e fia il combatter corto ; 
Che P antico valore 
NegP Italici cuor non e ancor morto.' 

Comp. Settembrini, Lezioni, etc., ii. 136; and Moritz Carriere, Die Philo- 
aophische Weltanschauung Reformation8zeit, pp. 232-236. 

1 On this point see some admirable remarks in Sattembrini, Op. cit., Vol. ii. 
pp. 137-139. 

* Opere, Vol. viii. p. 347. 



1 



1 76 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

political uncertainty. An observer might well hesitate, for instance, 
as to whether any particular process he witnessed was a stage in 
growth or in decay, just as a man on the sea-shore might not be able 
to say for an instant whether the tide was receding or advancing. 

To his political Skepticism must be added decided traces of 
twofold truth in his personal character. What to the theologian 
[ of his time was a conflict between faith and reason was to Machia- 
Vvelli an antagonism between despotism and liberty. This strife, 
which he discovered in the political macrocosm, he felt in the 
microcosm of his own being. Nothing is more striking, in his 
political works, than the juxtaposition of contrary sentiments. In 
one sentence, e.g. he praises some political strategy or act of oppor- 
. tune cruelty, while in the next he expresses admiration for a deed 
of heroism or forbearance (the latter of course having proved itself 
to be successful). He is clearly of opinion that, to quote his own 
proverb, ' Opposita juxta se posita magis elucescunt.' On which of 
the two his affections are really concentrated it is difficult to say, 
the efficacy of tyranny and the charms of liberty so equally share 
his expressed admiration. Some of his biographers decide the 
question by making his feeling for despotism, respect ; while his 
sentiment for liberty is the warmer passion of love. Bat it seems 
just as probable that there was no real preference of either above 
the other. They were rival coefficients in human institutions ; and 
the merit of one above the other could only be decided by the cir- 
cumstances of the case; and be_JeAt£d^_p^ly_by___success. He was 
assuredly far from partaking Milton's generous confidence in the 
inherent superiority of truth and freedom, struggling no matter 
against what odds; and if he had ever adduced the venerable 
maxim, ' Magna est Veritas et prevalebit/ it would have been on the 
-distinct understanding that truth must be backed by a superior 
material force. One effect of his perpetual oscillation between the 
/extremes of despotism and freedom is to impart to his historical 
I works an appearance of extreme fairness, which all his critics have 
\10ticed and commended. We may regard it as a result of Renais- 
sance Free-thought passing into a form of twofold truth. It is a 
characteristic shared also by Guicciardini. 

Harmonizing with this Skepticism, and partially its source, is 
Machiavelli's confessed delight in watching, both in history and in 
personal observation, the diversities of thought, character and 
manners existing among men ; especially when of different nation- 
alities, race and religion. This, as we shall find, was the favourite 
occupation of Montaigne, and the root-thought of his Skepticism. 
Both observers seem to have drawn from their investigations opinions 



General Causes and Leaders. 177 

derogatory to humanity, though Montaigne's good-humoured ridicule 
of his fellow-men is at least a pleasanter feature than Machiavelli's 
moody and misanthropic pessimism. 

We thus perceive that Machiavelli's Skepticism is of a peculiar 
and impure quality. There is nothing to show that he had ever 
expended any thought on the great problems of existence, or that he 
deemed their investigation worthy of his intellectual energies. His 
practical genius was developed to such an extent that there was little 
room left for ideal exercitations. Of truth the sole conception he had 
formed was political success, as of Deity his chief notion was Fate or 
Destiny. What his ethical principles were we have already noticed. 
There is therefore little that is disinterested and generous in his 
character as a thinker. The taint of selfishness pervades his thought 
as it does also, to a certain extent, his acts and life. 

It would not be right to close our remarks on Machiavelli, considered 
as a Skeptic without reference to his satire on the Free-thought 
of his age, contained in his Anno d'oro. 1 This is, in my judgment, 
the most remarkable of his satirical works. It consists of a recon- 
struction of the well-known fable, * the Golden Ass,' and is derived 
partly from Lucian and Apuleius, and partly from Plutarch. 2 Its 
most striking feature is the last canto, in which we have the reflec- 
tions of a really ' learned pig,' who, like the hero of the fable, has 
once enjoyed the doubtful privilege of human form. This quadruped' 
represents, with much thought and humour, the Epicurean character- 
istics of the time ; and dilates on the many disadvantages pertaining' 
to the manners and customs of that lower animal, man. 8 In some 
respects it is a satire even upon Machiavelli's own principles; 
certainly the lines : — 

' Non da 1' un porco a 1' altro porco doglia, 
L' un cervo a 1' altro : solamente 1' uomo 
L' altr' uomo ammazza, crocifigge e spoglia ' — 

is a severe condemnation of many of the principles contained in the 
Prince. In its swinish enjoyment of material pleasures and his con- 
tempt for higher or more ideal pursuits, Machiavelli's pig bears a 
considerable resemblance to Pulci's Margutte. He distinctly refuses 

1 Opere, vol. viii. pp. 866-378. 

* Comp. M. Artaud, Machiavel, vol. ii. pp. 80-82. 

1 The advantages of the brute creation over humanity, espscially in respect 
of their irrationality, has been a favourite theme for satirists and humorists 
of all ages. Perhaps the most graceful and poetic treatment it ever received 
was in the Idylles des Moutons of Madame Deshoulieres : Amsterdam, 1694. 
Comp. Bay le's Diet., Art. Ovid, note H; and see, on same subject, Villari's 
Machiavelli, Vol. ii. p. 885, Eng. Trans. 

VOL. I. N 



1 78 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

to return to the miseries of human existence ; and he sums up the 
many advantages of a porcine life in the amusing climax : — 

' E se alcuno infra gli uomini ti par divo 
Felice e lieto, non gli creder molto 
Ch'n questo fango piu felice vivo 
Dove senza pensier mi bagno e volto.' l 

Machiavelli's intellect was much too restless, and his temperament 
too energetic to allow of much wallowing in the sty of Epicurus ; but 
the ' senza pensier ' of the last line suggests the thought whether the 
absence of pure intellectual speculation, so conspicuous in his writings, 
may not be ascribed to intentional self-abnegation ; so that, despairing 
of certainty in such topics, he purposely cultivated indifference and 
vacuity of thought. At any rate, it is evident that 'senza pensier ' 
had become an ordinary characteristic of the age, and, as such, arrested 
the attention of the satirist and humorist. We may remember that 
Pulci's Margutte, with all his tastes and feelings of the very lowest 
type of animalism, is nevertheless designated 

' II maestro di color che sanno.' 



1 See Villari loc. cit. The persons, or causes, aimed at in Machiavelli's 
satire have been very variously interpreted. Probably the most unlikely is 
Busini's reference of it to Guiociardini, and the adherents of the Medici. 
Villari regards its interpretation as * hopelessly impossible at the present 
date.' Under the circumstances the reference of it to the most ' piggish ' of 
Italian causes then current, — viz. Obscuranticism, — may claim some measure 
of recognition. 



CHAPTER III. 

GENERAL CAUSES AND LEADERS. 

. . ... Guicciardini, the historian par excellence of the 
Renaissance, though different from, and in many 
respect 8 opposed to, Machiavelli in respect of politics, resembles 
the great Florentine secretary in his Free-thought proclivities ; and 
his intense hatred of sacerdotalism. He was a man of wonderful 
perspicacity and breadth of view, of great administrative talents, 
and of admirably balanced judgment. With Machiavelli he must 
be classed among the dual-sighted men noticed in our chapter on 
twofold truth, to whom every subject of human contemplation 
presents, not a single and uniform, but complex and multiform 
aspect. When he began his celebrated history, or rather the dis- 
courses intended as preparatory exercises for it, he adopted the 
cautious equilibrating method which must needs characterize every 
impartial historian. In describing human motives, state policies, 
and all other matters into which some degree of tortuousness and 
uncertainty necessarily enter, he posited his subject in the form 
of Pros and Cons, summed up with lucidity of method, and a 
more than judicial impartiality. His method in politics and history 
thus resembled the equipoising of divergent views which distin- 
guished the theology of Thomas Aquinas, Abelard, and Peter Lom- 
bard. Nor did he adopt these Pro and Con exercises merely as a kind 
of youthful gymnastic, as some writers have thought; 1 but because 
the twofold method formed an integral portion and manifestation of 
his cautious, far-seeing, comprehensive intellect. 2 To suoh an extent 
did he carry this method of investigation into human affairs that, as 
he himself confesses, when he had decided upon and adopted a given 
opinion or line of conduct, though with the utmost determination — 
for in practical matters he was anything but an irresolute man — he ex- 
perienced afterwards a half-consciousness of repentance as the rejected 

1 Cf. e.g. Art. Guicciardini, in ErscJi und Grueber, voL xcvi., section i., 
p. 268 note. 
* Gomp. v. Banke, Zur Kritik neuerer GeBchichtschreiber, p. 5. 

179 



180 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

alternations continued to present themselves to his reflective and ever 
busy intellect. 1 The application of this, as a general psychological 
truth to creeds and convictions, we have noticed in a previous chapter. 
Guicciardini's autobiography and the interesting collection of 
maxims or mementos contained in his Inedited works, 3 give us an 
insight into his personal character and reveal his sympathies with 
the Renaissance movement. Petrarca does not excel him in his con- 
tempt for astrology and similar current superstitions of his time, the 
pretensions of which he exposes in a clear and forcible manner. 4 Nor 
is his disdain less for the super-subtle refinements of the schoolmen 
and Averroes. His attitude to Papal Christianity was a mixed senti- 
. ment not uncommon to the freer thinkers of his time. The ordinary 
I Romish ecclesiastic — a compound of ignorance, greed and hypocrisy— 
he utterly detested. One of his fervent prayers for the future of 
humanity was, that the world might be delivered from the yoke of 
sacerdotalism. On the other hand, brought into contact as he had 
been with the higher classes of the Roman hierarchy, for some 

C members of which he cherished a sincere friendship, he was 
not inclined to favour openly the Lutheran Reformation, which he 
himself admits he might have done, 5 had it * not been for those 
personal ties. Indeed his relation to Christianity resembles Machia- 
(^velli's in being rather that of a politician and moralist, than of a 
speculative or religious thinker. Luther's work e.g. commends 
itself to him as a potent instrumentality for the subversion of sacer- 
dotal claims rather than as a dogmatic reconstruction of Christian 
theology. To the dootrines of the Church, except when they bore 
directly on practical life, he is indifferent. He expresses his conviction 
that the supernatural must, under any conceivable circumstances, be 
involved in darkness; and that theologians and philosophers have 
only follies to assert concerning it. 6 On the subject of miracles he is 
as skeptical as Machiavelli, affirming that they belong naturally to 
all religions, and are therefore but a feeble proof of the superiority 
or truth of any given religion. He thinks that, in their best attested 
form, they are only examples of natural phenomena as yet unex- 
plained. 7 He dislikes the excess of dogmatic development which 
had become the opprobrium of Christianity, and is shrewd enough to 

1 Opere Inedite, i. p. 141 (Ricordi, clvi.). 

* Evenings with the Skeptics. Ev. vi. 

* Especially vol. i. and x. The former containing hia Ricordi, the latter his 
autobiography. 

4 Op. Ined., i. pp. 107, 161. 

5 Op. Ined., i. pp. 97, 208. 
c Op. Ined., i. p. 180. 

1 Op. Ined. y i. p. 129. Com p. Burckhardt, Cullur der Renaistance, ii. p. 286. 



General Causes and Leaders. 181 

detect its mischievous effects on the human character. The result of 
over-religiousness, he says, is * intellectual effeminacy, leading men 
astray into a thousand errors, and diverting them from generous and 
manly enterprises.' In saying this he does not derogate from the 
Christian faith, but rather confirms it ; 1 a statement which shows that 
Guicciardini also knew how to discriminate between Christianity and 
ecclesiasticism. The former he believes is summed up in the duties 
of practical benevolence and forbearance. In a striking epitome of 
religious duty he says, 2 * I do not find fault with the feasts, prayers, ' 
and other devotional duties which are ordered by the Church, or men- 
tioned by preachers, but the virtue of virtues, in comparison with 
which all others are trivial, is to injure no man, and to benefit so far 
as we can every man.' Still more striking, perhaps, is his genuinely 
Christian tone on the subject of charity and forbearance. In his 
* Mementos ' he exhorts his readers not to allow themselves to be \ 
restrained from beneficence by ingratitude ; for in the bestowal of / 
kindness, apart from all considerations of gratitude, there was something 
divine ; and the noblest revenge any man could exact from his enemy 
was to do him kindness. 3 His large experience of men and human 
affairs enters, as a counteracting influence, into his conception of reli- 
gious dogmas. On more than one occasion he expresses his belief in 
the natural goodness of humanity ; 4 and thinks that men leave the 
straight path only by the pressure of temptation ; but this does not 
prevent his avowal that the judgments and opinions of bodies of men 
are generally determined by falsehood or accident. 6 He also tries to 
reconcile the justice of Divine Providence with the course of history. 
He cannot understand e.g. how on the ordinary theory of ' God in 
history,' the sons of Ludovico Sforza should have inherited Milan, 
acquired as it was by the villanous conduct of their father. Experi- 
ence has moreover taught him that the triumphs attributed to faith 
are well-grounded, but he does not scruple to rationalize its modus 
operandi by making it mean persistency. Like Machiavelli, Guic-V 
ciardini is a true patriot; but his ideas are more moderate and humane I 
than those of his friend. His own warmest aspirations for Italy and 
humanity are centred in ' civil and religious liberty.' ' Three things ' 
he once said, ' I should like to live to see — a well-ordered Republic in 

1 ' Ne voglio per questo derogare alia fede cristiana e al culto divino, anzi 
coniermarlo e augmentarlo disoernendo il troppo da quello che basta.' 
Op. Ined., i. p. 174. 

* Op. Ined., i. p. 142. 
8 Op. Ined., i. p. 175. 
« Op. Ined., i. p. 138. 

* Op. Ined., i. p. 214. 



1 82 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 



r 



Florence, Italy set free from all foreigners, and the deliverance of 
the world from sacerdotal tyranny.' 

Reflecting in so many points the characteristics of his age, it is 
not wonderful to find that Guicciardini is also afflicted with the 
* Weltschmerz ' which is the prevailing intellectual disease of the 
men of the Renaissance. On the occasion of his attaining his thir- 
tieth year, 1 he thanks God for the many mercies he had bestowed 
upon him, especially for the possession of so much intellect as to dis- 
cern the vanity of this life. . . . He expresses a mournful con- 
viction that life and human usages such as were then most customary, 
were unworthy of a noble-minded, well-nurtured man, and that 
perseverance in those usages could not, in his own case at least, be 
unattended by the greatest shame. The whole tone of the medita- 
tion assimilates it to those aspirations of which we have examples in 
Petrarca, Giordano Bruno and others, in which dissatisfaction with 
the present is blended with a hopeful yearning for a future of freedom 
and enlightenment. No doubt there was much in the political events 
and social manners, no less than in the ecclesiastical affairs, of his 
time to justify that dissatisfaction ; and there were also a few symp- 
toms of an amelioration in human thought and life which might have 
been held to warrant a sanguine view of the future. I have already 
quoted a passage from his thoughts in which Guicciardini pronounces 
a favourable estimate of humanity ; but this it may be feared is an 
ex 'parte and sentimental view, prompted perhaps by pleasant social 
intercourse ; certainly it is not borne out by the general tone of his 
writings. Montaigne, with his usual keen observation, remarked that 
in his History * among the many motives and counsels on which he 
adjudicates, he never attributes anyone of them to virtue, religion or 
conscience, as if all those were quite extinct in the world. 7 2 The 
accusation applies more or less to most of the historians and chron- 
iclers of the Renaissance. We have already marked the excess to 
which Machiavelli carried his distrust of human nature. But 
Guicciardini's mind was too well balanced, and his judgment too 
comprehensive, to allow him to share Machiavelli's moral Skepticism. 
His History dealt with the period of the greatest political corruption 
and social depravity in all Italian history ; and it was only reasonable 
that it should take its colouring from the personages and events which 
it describes ; but I cannot help thinking that Montaigne's opinion is 
somewhat exaggerated, and needs that modification which is so 

1 Op. Ined., x. p. 89. 

1 Essais, book ii., ch. 10. Compare Guicciardini, Op. Ined., x., Introduction, 
p. xxvii. Guicciardini resembles Montaigne in having sought retirement from 
the follies and vanities of his time. 



General Causes and Leaders. 183 

readily and pleasingly supplied by the collection of his 'Inedited 
Works.* These must now be held to supply the best available mate- 
rials for estimating Guicciardini's character, and there can be no 
question as to the substantial excellence of the self-revealed portrait. 1 
In addition to what I have already said on this point, I may observe 
that the extent of his sympathy with the free-culture of the Renais- 
sance is as great as could have been expected from his somewhat 
d. austere and reserved temperament. A firm believer in Christianity, 
he refused to accept either the superstitious or dogmatic additions by 
which its primal purity had been corrupted. His belief in the super- 
natural was too profound and well-grounded to permit an easy 
acquiescence in interpretations of it suggested by human ignorance or 
ecclesiastical self-interest. Of his sincere piety there can be as 
little question as of his probity and integrity. The main element in 
his character-formation was the indomitable independence which 
enabled him to survey the events and personages of his time as from 
a lofty standpoint of self-contained and completely equipped individ- 
uality. As a type of moderate and restrained Free-thought, Guicciar- 
dini may contrast with men like Luigi Pulci, who represent extreme 
and libertine aspects of the Renaissance. Indeed it is only by a 
comparative method, such as we have adopted in these chapters, that 
the varied phases of any great mental movement can be adequately 
appreciated. A similarity of influences and environment will no 
more in the moral than in the physical world engender an identity 
of product. The characters I have sketched were chosen purposely 
as representing, so far as possible, all the prominent varieties of 
Renaissance-culture. No doubt we might have found examples of 
men more free in their opinions, more unrestrained in their conduct, 
more inimical to Christianity than Pulci and Machiavelli ; and there 
are instances of prominent thinkers, who, with a bias to Free-thought, 
are still more moderate in its exercise than Guicciardini ; but by \ 
taking, as we have, examples of neither extreme we shall be more \ 
likely to obtain a fair average of the general thought of the period. / 

Casting a backward glance over the men whose Free- thought ten- 
dencies I have thus attempted to discriminate and describe (for we 
must reserve to Pomponazzi a philosophical and academical niche 
for himself) we find the human intellect, in the Renaissance, returning 
to itself from the wilds of Sacerdotalism and Superstition. There is 
a Renaissance of the human reason so long crushed beneath the iron 
heel of Authority — a new birth of Nature after a long winter of 

1 Comp. especially his letter to Machiavelli, Op. Ined., p. 100, perhaps the 
best document among all his writings for determining his true character, on 
account of its unconscious self -portraiture. 



1 ^ 



1 84 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

asceticism and monkish fanaticism. A fresh starting-point for know- 
ledge and science, after ages of obscurantism and darkness — a revival 
of freedom after intellectual and religious thraldom. A Renaissance 
of humanity from the tomb of a corrupt theology, and a resurrec- 
tion of Christianity itself from the grave-clothes and rocky sepulchre 
in which Romanism had invested and buried it, as the Jews of old 
did its Founder. The men whom I have selected as types of the 
movement, notwithstanding strongly-marked individual characteristics, 
clearly discerned the general signs of the times. The origin and 
scope of the Free-thought common to them all may have differed in 
every particular case ; with some it was the method, with others the sole 
object of enfranchisement ; but there was no conflict of opinion as to 
the propriety of employing it. For excessive dogma the clear remedy 
was Skepticism and Negation, independent search and inquiry. 
Whatever else was uncertain, there was no hesitation on this point. 
Nor was there any doubt as to the propriety of opposing Reason to 
Authority, and human interests to sacerdotal pretensions. Nor again 
was there any question as to the desirability of a return to nature. 
The main lines, in short, of the Renaissance movement were accepted 
by all. Its energies and aspirations constituted points of union be- 
tween men of varying idiosyncrasies, professions and sympathies ; and 
secured their co-operation in the holy cause of freedom and culture. 

We must now turn to the single Philosophical Skeptic in our 
List 

POMPONAZZI. 

Here we enter upon a new vista of Italian thought, that which 
pertains not to courts, literary and ecclesiastical circles, and to 
ordinary citizens, but to universities and lecture rooms. From his 
earliest manhood to his death Pomponazzi was a Professor of Philo- 
sophy. He therefore represents a different standpoint from any of 
the thinkers we have already considered. His Skepticism is not the 
accidental product of a particular period ; for had he lived at any 
other time than the fifteenth century he must have been a free and in- 
dependent thinker — a ruthless dissector of conventional beliefs. His 
doubt was engendered not by wayward or transient ebullitions of 
freedom, nor by mere dissatisfaction with excessive dogma — the 
tendency was inherent in his nature. 

As we are thus passing over from the region of popular and literary 
to that of philosophical skepticism, this will be a fitting place to 
glance at the general causes which contributed, during the latter 
portion of the Renaissance, to create and sustain, in Italian Univer- 
sities, the reasoned unbelief of which Pomponazzi is the most worthy 
but by no means the sole representative. 



General Causes and Leaders. 185 

Skepticism in Greece was entirely ratiocinative ; in the Italian 
Renaissance it was generally intuitional and spontaneous. Most of\ 
the influences we have noticed were instinctive rebounds against \ 
intellectual tyranny, rather than deliberate self-contained investi- J 
gations into- the problems of existence. I do not mean to say thay 
those instincts might not, after their primary manifestation, have 
sought to justify themselves by reason ; or that, in certain cases, they 
might not have been secretly prompted by reason ; all I contend for 
is, that the preparatory reasoning process is mostly suppressed, or 
occupies a subordinate place in the final result. At the same time 
Italian Skepticism is an indigenous product. The Free-thought of 
the Goliards, the Fabliaux, Provencal poetry, etc. in Italy and else- 
where manifests itself as a fresh spontaneous outcome of popular 
conviction and sentiment. Examples of Skepticism and Rationalism 
occur far back in the middle ages, as we have already noticed, though 
rather in isolated flashes than continuous rays. But we cannot place 
earlier than the fifteenth century the classical impulse, as a generally \ 
co-operating agency in the production of free speculation. During ) 
that century we find in Italy a ' considerable number of men who ' 
organized themselves as followers of Epikouros and other thinkers of 
antiquity, in opposition to the belief of the Church, and the restraints 
of social life. But their authorities and sources of inspiration were 
chiefly traditional. No work of any avowed Greek Skeptic was known 
to Italy until the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, certainly not 
until the later period if the knowledge be understood to apply to the 
Greek language. The classical authors who introduced philosophical 
doubt into Italy were, in literary circles, Cicero and Seneca ; and 
in academic circles, Aristotle's works. The skeptical effect of 
Cicero's eclecticism I have mentioned ; and something of the same 
power would attach to Aristotle as well, especially as he was yet but 
an un-texted ' umbra nominis ' and a nucleus of conflicting com- 
ments. Among ecclesiastical authors, portions of Augustine's works 
must also be enumerated as having, on minds of a certain class, a 
dogma-disturbing effect. Writing in the fourteenth century, Plethon's 
exponents of doubt and certainty are respectively Pyrrhon and 
Protagoras ; for he curiously accepts the well known maxim of the 
latter writer — * Man is the measure of all things/ as an affirmation • 
of human infallibility. 1 The first complete contact of the Italian 
mind with the Sokratic elonchus dates from the rise of the Platonists 
in Florence. The Platonism that existed previously — perhaps taking 

1 Comp. Fritz Schulze, OeschiclUe der Philosophic der Renaissance, Erster 
Band, p. 142. 



1 86 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

its tone from the theological abstractions and dogmatic passivity 
of the Church — represented merely the idealism of Plato, and took no 
account of the severe questioning and skeptical suspense of his 
master. The first employment of the Sokratic elenchus as a l Pars 
destruens ' of Philosophy was by Picus Mirandola, who used it 
against Peripateticism. Our survey of Pomponazzi will show that 
besides other applications in the direction of Skepticism, Aristoteli- 
anism continued to develop that peculiar anti-dogmatic relation to the 
Church which resulted from its acceptance by the Schoolmen as a 
system of secular truth equal in validity to the sacred verities 
promulgated by Christianity. 

The age of Machiavelli and Pomponazzi introduces us also to the new 
life of the Italian Universities — the academic portion of the Renais- 
sance. Speaking generally, this consisted in the virtual displace- 
ment of theology by philosophy and science. During the latter half 
of the fifteenth and the whole of the sixteenth centuries all the in- 
fluential chairs in these seats of learning were filled not by theologians 
but by philosophers. Ecclesiastical dogma, so far as it arrogated 
to itself an independence of all reasoning and discussion, was left in 
the enjoyment of her inviolable supremacy accompanied by the super- 
cilious disregard of the newer thinkers. What was asserted as the 
dogmatic creed of the Church was refused a hearing before the courts 
of Reason and Logic, unless it chose to divest itself of infallibility and 
other supernatural immunities, and make its plea on the grounds 
and by the methods of demonstrable truth. This was the position of 
the doctrine of Immortality, the discussion of which forms such a 
salient feature in the life of Pomponazzi. Removed by the Skepticism 
of the age from its exclusive ground of ecclesiastical dogma, it was 
accepted by the Universities as a moot point of philosophy, to be deter- 
mined by an appeal to Aristotle or some equally irrefragable authority 
in physical science. If this treatment of it as an open question was 
not adopted, the only remaining alternative for the Italian thinker 
was the theory of Two-fold Truth, and this was accepted without 
hesitation by all the foremost teachers in Italy during the sixteenth 
century. However immoral the consequences of that doctrine in 
special cases, it undoubtedly provided a free scope for reason and secu- 
lar science, on which those influences had now grown powerful enough 
to insist. On this point the divergent and often hostile schools of 
Aristotelians and Platonists were quite at one. The materialists of 
the former, and the idealists among the latter were equally firm in 
their determination to reason upon their accepted principles without 
suffering undue interference from ecclesiastical dogma. As they i. 

were careful to point out, they were philosophers, not theologians. \ 



General Causes and Leaders. 187 

Their concern was, exclusively, secular culture. Human reason and 
logic were their sole recognized instruments, the wisdom of the 
ancients, their only authority. They were no doubt alive to the 
possibility of their conclusions traversing some dogma or ecclesiastical 
decree, possibly standing in opposition to a fundamental maxim of 
Christian Revelation. But this consideration was regarded by them 
as sentimental and subordinate. The antagonism between Faith and 
Reason, if their mental advance arrived at such a point, was deemed 
not to be of their own seeking ; at most it was but an incidental out- 
come of their truth search. The autonomy of the reason and entire 
freedom of thought in all secular subjects, must at any cost be 
preserved. Besides, the faculty of reason, the pursuit of truth, 
were not these also to be regarded as Divine? Were popes and 
councils the sole channels of truth, secular as well as'sacred ? Had 
traditional Christianity a monopoly of all conceivable truth and 
goodness ? In the corrupt state of the Church such questions were 
redolent of the bitterest sarcasm. Hence the Philosophers took 
their own course. They commented on Aristotle and Plato as pure 
disciples of the Academy and Lyceum, and as if their lot had been cast 
in Greece 400 B.C. instead of in Italy in the sixteenth century a.d. 
Cremonini, in the latter part of that century, announced publicly from 
his chair at Padua, that he followed the teachings of Aristotle and 
the dicta of philosophers, though he was quite aware that they con- 
flicted occasionally with the dogmas of the Church. Pomponazzi, 
Bruno and Vanini are three different illustrations of the same truth 
which will come within the scope of our present enquiry. As an 
illustration of this subordination of theology to philosophy in Italy, 
I have already pointed out the striking fact, that all the great Italian 
theologians of the time, Bonaventura, Anselm, Peter Lombard and 
Aquinas acquired their celebrity in foreign countries and seats of 
learning, not in their native land. 1 

What was thus true of the philosophers was in a lesser degree true 
also of the poets and literati. In their own manner these also cher- 
ished a form of dual truth. Just as the thinkers refused to permit 
the encroachment of dogmas in their intellectual proceedings, so did 
the poets refuse to allow their imaginations to be thwarted and cir- 
cumscribed by similar agencies. Dante, Petrarca, Pulci, Ariosto and 
Tasso even, when they touch upon subjects connected with the teaching 
of the Church yet preserve the freedom and autonomy of their own 
creations. Pulci, as we have seen, goes a step further, and employs 
his imagination to burlesque the teachings of the Church. The 

1 Comp. Berti, Oiord. Bruno, p. 257 ; Bartoli, 1 Primi due Secoli, p. 201. 



1 88 Tlte Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

others, while maintaining an attitude of external reverence to ecclesi- 
astical dogma, evinced in varying degrees a tendency to regulate 
their poetic flights more by their own spiritual instincts, their sense 
of fi tne88 and love of liberty, than by the restrictions of ecclesiastical 
dogma. Tasso and Ariosto, as above remarked, are inclined to find 
compensation in their poetic visions and ideal representations of 
human life for the evil which attached to the ecclesiastical and social 
life of Italy. Unconsciously they pitted their poetic reveries, their 
sublime conceptions of truth and humanity, against the sordid and 
polluted conceptions forced on their countrymen by the Papal 
church. 

Our sketch of Pomponazzi will also remind us of another circum- 
stance which made Italy the centre of European Free-thought in the 
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. I mean the supremacy of Rome, 
and the peculiar effect of that position in an age of intellectual fer- 
ment and active speculation, in concentrating varying lines of thought 
upon herself as the infallible centre of orthodox belief. No doubt it 
had long been the result of the dominion arrogated by the chief seat 
of Western Christendom, that alleged unorthodox and heretical notions 
of every kind should be finally tested at Rome ; but in an age of intel- 
lectual stagnation this fact had no very stirring effect on the minds 
of the Italians. Now, however, after the quickening process of the 
Renaissance, it assumed quite another aspect. Rome, unconsciously 
to itself, became the focus of European speculation. Just as the 
intellectual activities of Greece converged on Athens, so did the 
wayward impulses, the eccentric ideas, the rationalizing opinions of 
Christendom find a meeting-point at the seat of the Papacy. The 
Papal Regesta furnish us with numberless examples of the activity of 
the Roman Curia, in this particular, previous to the rise of the Inqui- 
sition. Pomponazzi's books, we shall find, were sent to the pope for 
condemnation. One effect of this centralization of various opinions, 
In an age of great mental excitation, was to create something like an 
exchange of forbidden ideas. Indeed, the heterodox opinions of some 
Sicilian or German bishop stood a far better chance of intellectual 
discussion at Rome among e.g. the cardinals of Leo X. than in the 
districts in which they were originated ; and in the fifteenth century 
neither Roman ecclesiastics nor citizens were to be readily intimi- 
dated by the threat of Papal thunder. The consequence was that 
Rome during the Renaissance was a " colluvies hsBreticdrum " — the 
centre of religious and philosophical speculation, whether conformable 
to ecclesiastical dogma or not. 



General Causes and Leaders. 189 

PomDonazzi ^° muc ^ ^y wftv °^ preface, though necessarily 

brief, as to the intellectual and religious environ- 
ment in which Pomponazzi was born a.d. 1462, in the town of 
Mantua. His family is said to have been noble and conspicuous, but 
nothing further seems known respecting it. Of his early years we 
are similarly in complete ignorance. The first definite information 
we have of him is that he was a student of medicine and philosophy 
in the University of Padua. His most esteemed teachers, he tells us, 
were Antonius and Trapolino, men of some celebrity in those days, 
but whose names are now nearly forgotten. In the year 1487 Pom- 
ponazzi took his degrees in philosophy and medicine, and the year 
following, when he was only twenty-six years of age, we find him 
established as extraordinary Professor in the University — a sufficient 
testimony to the precocity of his intellect. It was a custom, we are 
told, at Padua in those days, to elect two professors representing 
different points of view of the same subject ; so that by their public 
disputations the minds of the students should be stimulated to inde- 
pendence of thought, eagerness in the pursuit of truth, and readiness 
to detect error. The existence of such a custom affords an interesting 
proof of the freedom of teaching and discussion ; which, notwith- 
standing ecclesiastical repression, was not uncommon in the Italian 
Universities ; a feature probably not altogether unconnected with the 
municipal rights and popular privileges pertaining to the Free Towns 
which for the most part gave them birth. The ordinary Professor of 
Philosophy, to whom the youthful Pomponazzi was appointed coad- 
jutor, was a veteran teacher and Peripatetic thinker called Achillini ; 
and their dialectic tournaments appear to have excited no small 
interest in the University. Let us try and conjure up one of those 
scenes, not only interesting in themselves as representations of me- 
diaeval science and manners, but throwing considerable light on the 
position and character of Pomponazzi and the reform he endeavoured 
to effect. 

We may imagine ourselves then in Padua on a summer's day of 
the year 1488— time about 8 a.m. The narrow streets of the old 
town are crowded with citizens and students, who not only fill the 
arcades, but to a considerable extent the middle of the roadways. 
Among the students are to be seen men of various ages, from the beard- 
less youth of sixteen to the man of thirty-five or forty years. Hardly 
less varied are their nationalities. Here a group of Englishmen, 
conspicuous by costume, language and physiognomy, is followed 
by another of Frenchmen, with their national dress and character- 
istics. Spaniards and Germans, Hungarians and Bohemians, not to 
mention natives of smaller European States, are discernible among the 



1 90 The Skeptics of t/ie Italian Renaissance. 

crowd. 1 Occasionally an university professor passes in broad-sleeved 
gown and long train. All seem hastening in the same direction. We 
accost a fellow-countryman, who is hurrying past with a book under 
his arm. We ask him where he is going, and what is the meaning of 
the unusual excitement in the streets. He looks with surprise at us, 
and answers that he is going to the ' Palazzo della Ragione ' — the Pa- 
lace of Justice or Reason, to see the combat. On our further enquiry, 
What combat? he regards us with still more astonishment, and asks in 
return if we are not aware that in the aforesaid Great Hall of Reason 
there is about to commence a discussion between the renowned Pro- 
fessor Achillini and young Pomponazzi, on the profound and inter- 
esting question of the simplicity or multiplicity of the Intellect? 
Telling him, in reply, that we are strangers, newly arrived from 
England, and are quite ignorant of what is passing in Padua and her 
famous university, we ask him to show us the way to the scene of the 
literary tournament. He immediately consents, and bidding us 
follow him, he leads the way for a short distance until we arrive at 
the open market-place and the ' Palazzo della Ragione.' We enter 
with the crowd into the great hall, the enormous proportions of which 
still astonish the visitor to Padua ; and, thanks to our guide, we are 
enabled to find a fairly good place not far from the seats which aro 
reserved for the authorities of the town and university, and the two 
low desks placed in readiness for the combatants. The hall, notwith- 
standing its size, is quite crowded with students and citizens ; and 
for a time the hubbub is almost deafening, arising mainly from the 
vehement and voluble discussions of eager partizans as to the com- 
parative superiority of the two professors, intermingled occasionally 
with somewhat free expressions of opinion on current political 
events. Never before have we witnessed such a scene, never could we 
have imagined that among such a crowd an interest so passionate 
could have been evoked by questions so speculative and metaphysical. 
We audibly express our wonder at the sight, as well as our doubt 
whether in any of the great European seats of learning such a scene 
had ever been witnessed. To our wondering enquiry, a companion, 
who said he had recently come to Padua from the University of Paris, 
replied that from what he could hear of the merits and arguments of 

1 It can hardly be necessary to adduce Shakspeare's well-known reference in 
the * Taming of the Shrew ' to — 

1 Fair Padua, nursery of arts,' 

as a proof of its celebrity in England during the sixteenth century, and of the 
fact of its being a favourite resort of Englishmen. For some information on 
this subject, see Bartholmess 1 Giordano Bruno, p. 869, note ix. 



General Causes and Leaders. 191 

the rival philosophers they were Italian representatives of Abelard 
and William of Champeaux, and if he dared prognosticate the issue 
of the contest, it was like to terminate, as that well-known philo- 
sophical duel terminated in Paris, in favour of the younger and 
bolder thinker. * You are right,' answered an Italian : ' our " little 
Peter " l is a second Abelard. I have been told that he resembles 
him in expression, size, and figure, as well as in name, and the free- 
dom with which he handles philosophical questions. As to his 
victory over Achillini, that is a mere question of time. Peterkin's 
lectures are crowded already, and Achillini's audiences are beginning 
to dwindle. 7 A bystander who had been listening to our discussion, 
hereupon angrily interferes with the remark, that this is not the 
case : Achillini's hearers are as numerous as ever, and are not likely 
to be lessened by such an insignificant upstart as little Peter of 
Mantua. Further argument is prevented by the entry of the rival 
champions, accompanied by the Rector and a few of the officials of the 
university. This is the signal for an outburst of vociferous applause 
which seems to shake the walls of the old hall ; partizans on either 
side clamorously shout the name of their particular favourite, salu- 
ting them by such cognomina as their affections, or the expected 
issue of the approaching contest, might suggest. Achillini thus be- 
comes, with an obvious reference to the struggle between the Homeric 
hero and Hector — Achilles ; while the disciples of Pomponazzi con- 
tinue to greet him with the more familiar soubriquet of ' Peretto ' 
or Peterkin. We now turn our attention to the two heroes of the 
fray, who are taking their assigned positions in the centre of the hall. 
The contrast between them is remarkable. Achillini is a striking- 
looking man of about thirty years of age. He is rather tall and 
stout in proportion, though a student's stoop of the shoulders detracts 
somewhat from his height. He possesses an intellectual countenance, 
which in repose seems placid and reflective, with large dreamy-look- 
ing eyes. He walks up to his desk with a careless slouching gait. 
His professor's gown, we notice, is torn in several places, and is 
further remarkable by its narrow sleeves and general scanty propor- 
tions. Instead of forming a train behind him it scarcely reaches 
below his knees. Evidently a man regardless of personal appearance. 
His adversary, on the other hand, is almost a dwarf, with a powerful- 
looking face, a broad forehead, a hooked nose which imparts a 
somewhat Jewish cast to his features, small piercing black eyes, 
which, as he turns here and there, give him a peculiar expression of 

1 Pomponazzi was called by his disciples and friends ' Peretto, 1 the diminu- 
tion of Peter, from his dwarfish stature. 



192 T/ie Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

restless vivacity. His thin lips are almost continually curled into a 
satirical smile. He has scarce any hair on his face, so that there is 
nothing to hide its sudden and perpetual change of expression. l A 
born enquirer and skeptic ! ' is our mental ejaculation as he takes 
his place at his desk. 1 

The preparations for the combat are characteristic of the men. 
Achillini has on the desk before him a row of ponderous folios, which 
an assistant, a favourite disciple, is marshalling in due order ; Pom- 
ponazzi has nothing but a few papers, containing apparently references 
and notes. 

At last the moment arrives. An usher proclaims silence ; the Rector 
of the University announces the subject to be debated ; and the wordy 
battle begins. Achillini, with a loud and rather coarse voice, but with 
great deliberation of manner, lays down in a short speech the pro- 
position he intends to defend. ' The intellect is simple, uniform, in- 
decomposable. This is clearly, 7 he affirms ' the opinion of Aristotle, 
as testified by Averroes, his greatest commentator ; and he is willing 
to defend this position against all comer8. , When Achillini thus ends 
his brief preparatory address, his partisans applaud for several seconds. 
But a still greater storm of cheering arises when Pomponazzi stands 
forward at his desk and throws his restless eagle glance over the 
noisy crowd. So short is his stature that he can hardly be discerned. 
Some of Achillini's partizans jocosely request him ' to stand upon his 
desk,' others offer to take him on their shoulders. His own ad- 
herents scornfully retort that a dwarf has frequently proved more than 

1 These personal characteristics of the rival professors are drawn from con- 
temporary sources. On Achillini, see Tiraboschi, Storia, etc., Tom. vi., part ii., p. 
712 ; and Niceron, Memoirs, etc. xxxvi. pp. 1-5. Renan (Averroes, p. 862) seems 
to regard him as a mere debater, though he evidently was much more. His 
dialectical prowess was once acknowledged by the flattering alternative which 
has frequently been applied, perhaps more appropriately, to professors of the 
noble art of fisticuffs, ' Aut Diabolus, aut magnus Achillinus.' On Pomponazzi, 
cf. Tiraboschi, op. cit., Tom. viL, part ii., p. 614 ; Ginguene, Histoire Liter- 
aire oVItalie, vii. pp. 484, 485. But the main source for Pomponazzi's personal 
appearance and mode of argumentation, etc., is the testimony of his disciple 
Paulus Jovius, Elog. Doct. Ptr., xxxvi. Comp. Fiorentino, pp. 12, 18. Most 
writers who have dwelt upon these contests seem to imply a strong contrast, in 
point of age, between Pomponazzi and his adversary ; but this is clearly wrong. 
The men were nearly of the same age. The main distinction consisted in the 
fact that Achillini was an experienced debater, who had hitherto held undis- 
puted sway in Padua ; whereas Pomponazzi was, comparatively, a new comer, 
who had his spurs yet to win in the field of philosophy. Hence the remark 
of M. Franck, ' Pomponace avait l'ardeur, la con fiance, le prestige de la jeu- 
nesse, tandis qu* Achillini touchait a son declin,' is quite unfounded. Comp. 
Moralities el Philosopher, par A. Franck, p. 91. 



General Causes and Leaders. 193 

a match for a giant, and augur for their ' Little Peter ' a victory as 
certain as that of David the Jewish shepherd boy over his ponderous 
antagonist. When these amenities have ceased, Pomponazzi begins 
to speak ; and in a tone of voice, full, clear and round, which makes 
itself heard in every part of the hall, 1 he takes exception to Achillini's 
argument. The intellect he maintains is not simple but multiple ; and 
this he will prove is Aristotle's real opinion, who must be interpreted 
not by the misty and incomprehensible comments of Averroes — a man 
of alien race and mental sympathies — but by the lucid testimony of 
his great fellow-countryman, Alexander of Aphrodisias. That this is 
Aristotle's view he will also show from Thomas Aquinas, Albertus 
Magnus, etc., etc. There is, again, vociferous applause when ' Little 
Peter 1 ceases ; and it is easy to perceive that his adherents outnumber 
considerably those of his antagonist. 

We need not try to follow the debate, which is carried on with the 
pedantic formality of method, subtlety of logical and linguistic termi- 
nology, and licence of attendant circumstances, which mark such 
philosophical tournaments of the Renaissance. Both combatants pro- 
fess to be guided by Aristotle ; but as there is no Greek text which each 
equally acknowledges (and if there were, neither would have been able 
to read it), the advantages of possessing a common authority are 
merely nominal. Achillini is evidently a man of immense erudition 
and dialectical power, and his tactics are directed either to overwhelm 
his adversary with some formidable and crushing dictum, or to en- 
snare him in the meshes of an involved and insidious argument. 2 In 
either case his attempts are utterly foiled by the caution and vigilance 
of his foe. Pomponazzi is too wary to allow himself to be impaled 
on the horns of a dilemma, or caught in a well-baited half-concealed 
dialectical trap. He is also prompt to turn the tables on his powerful, 
though somewhat unwieldy, antagonist. In quickly uttered sentences, 
he takes exception to a few words, or some short proposition, in the 
long-drawn argument which Achillini has just announced ; and with 

1 Paulas Jovius speaks with especial commendation of Pomponazzi's orato- 
rical powers. 

1 Achillini's erudition, and dialectical power, seems sufficiently attested by 
his collected writings. These are entitled Alexandri Achillini Bononiemis 
Philosophi celeberrimi Opera Omnia in unum collects*. Venetiis mdxlv. It is 
perhaps needless to add that the volume is excessively rare. Some few years 
since the author was fortunate enough to find Achillini's folio, which a former 
possessor, mindful of one of the most famous of mediaeval controversies, had 
bound up with the collected edition of Pomponazzi's works. Tractattu, etc., 
Venetiis mdxxv. The book forms one of the rarest treasures of his library. 
Achillini's treatment of the question here discussed, between himself and 
Pomponazzi, may be found in Book iii. Doubt iv. of his Quodlibeta, fol. 14 

VOL. I. ^ 



194 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

flashing eyes and a sareastic smile he burlesques them by a witty 
parallel statement, points out their inherent absurdity, and thus raises 
a laugh at the expense of his foe. Or, more at length, and in serious 
measured tones, 1 he analyses Achillini's propositions, points out 
some glaring inconsistency between their different parts, or between 
the conclusion sought to be deduced and the dicta of standard authori- 
ties. It must be admitted our skeptic is not very scrupulous in his 
choice of argument, provided he can amuse the audience. 8 Each of his 
witty sallies or comic arguments is hailed with boisterous laughter 
and applause, which even Achilhni's partizans are compelled to join. 
Clearly the audience have scant sympathy for long and involved dia- 
lectical processes, and warmly approve short and pithy ratiocination, 
based upon mother wit and common sense. 

The contest is obviously unequal : it reminds one of that between 
a whale and a sword fish, or readers of Scott's novels might find an 
apt illustration in the encounters between the ponderous Dominie 
Sampson and the ' facetious ' but rather agile Pleydell. It is to no 
purpose that Achillini complains of the impertinence of Pomponazzi's 
replies, or protests that his witticisms and sarcasms are no real 
answer to a serious philosophical argument. Pomponazzi has won 
the ears of his audience, and may so far be said to have achieved 
victory. 

We need dwell no further upon this attempted representation of 
scenes in which our skeptic was involved during his residence at 
Padua. To my mind, these literary duels of the fifteenth century are 
significant of the increasing divergence between ancient and modern 
thought. 8 Achillini typifies Scholasticism : with its methods and 
ratiocination — formal, ponderous, elaborate and unelastic. Pom- 
ponazzi represents modern thought : keen, eager, restless, vivacious, 
caring little for traditional prooesses and authorities merely as such, 
and much for the clear, simple dictates of unfettered human reason. 
The fact that such a scene was possible, that popular and academic 
sympathies were already enlisted on the side of philosophical neolo- 
gianism, is a clear indication of the transition of thought which was 
taking, place in Italy ; and which claims Pomponazzi as one of the 

1 See reference above to Ginguene, Histoire, etc., vii. p. 435. 

1 Comp. Prof. Fiorentino, in his paper, * Di alcuni manoscritti Aretini del 
Pomponazzi, 1 in OiomcUe Napolitano, Agosto, 1878, p. 116. 

8 Comp. the description of Giordano Bruno's disputes with the Peripatetics of 
Paris nearly a century later, in Signor Berti's Giord. Bruno, p. 198. These 
dialectical tournaments seem to have lost in France and elsewhere much of the 
free, popular, and informal character which distinguished them in their native 
home— the Italian Universities. 



Getieral Causes and Leaders. 195 

earliest and most potent of the instruments which combined to 
effect it. 

The prophecy with which I have credited one of my characters 
in the preceding scene is founded on fact. Pomponazzi did succeed 
in drawing off most of the hearers of Achillini ; and so far made good 
his supposed resemblance toAbelard, and the success of that thinker in 
opposing William of Champeaux. With the fame thus early acquired 
his future as a teacher of philosophy was assured. Nevertheless the 
date of his enrolment among the ordinary professors of the University 
is uncertain. His latest biographer, Fiorentino, who has displayed great 
industry in bringing together the few scattered facts of which any 
records are left concerning him, tells us that the first intimation of 
such a promotion is in a document bearing date October, 1495, in 
which Pomponazzi is styled * Ordinary Professor of Natural Philo- 
sophy/ l Four years later he achieved a still higher position, for by 
the interest of Cardinal Bembo he obtained the first chair in the 
University. He continued his professorial labours, commenting on 
the works of Aristotle, until 1509. In that year, owing to the 
disasters which followed upon the League of Cambray and the policy 
of Pope Julius II., the University of Padua was closed, and its pro- 
fessors and students were dispersed throughout Italy. Pomponazzi, 
attended by a number of attached disciples, found a temporary refuge 
in Ferrara; where he still continued his lectures and his studies. 
From Ferrara he moved, about the year 1512, to the University of 
.Bologna, which was destined to become the seat of his greatest 
literary activity, as well as his abode during the remainder of his life. 
When Pomponazzi took possession of his professorship, Bologna was 
recovering from the social disturbances to which she had long been 
made a prey by the misgovernment of her rulers. The last of these was 
driven forth by Pope Julius II. in 1506, and the town was incorporated 
with ' the States of the Church. 7 Bologna benefited by the change in 
her position. Her municipal and academic privileges were preserved. 
The pope placed both town and university under the government of 
forty magistrates; and under this regime she enjoyed a large measure 
of freedom and independence. 2 To the magistracy of Bologna, and 
their sympathy for intellectual liberty and progress, Pomponazzi was 

1 Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 15. 

* Com p. Sismondi, Republiquei Italiennes, x. p. 89. ( II (Julias H.) fit en grande 
pompe son entree ft Bologne : il conserva a la ville ses privileges et son admini- 
stration republicaine, mais en changeant sa constitution/ etc. . . . Then 
after describing how the new senate of forty was composed, Sismondi proceeds, 
4 l'oligarchie des quarante de Bologne a administre cette province avec plosieurs 
prerogatives qui rappsloient sa liberte et son ancienne independence.' 



196 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

indebted for much kindness and support during the most critical 
period of his life. 

In the year 1516 Pomponazzi published his famous treatise on the 
Immortality of the Soul, the foundation both of his character as a 
skeptic, and his fame as a philosopher. In this work, says Fiorentino. 
1 he ceases to be a Greek commentator, and reveals himself as an 
original thinker ; he lays the foundation of the philosophy of the 
Italian Renaissance. 7 1 The immediate occasion of writing this work is 
differently told. Fiorentino e.g. tells a story of Pomponazzi's illness, 
during which he held discourses with his disciples concerning the 
future world. One of his pupils requests his master to resolve some 
doubts, which his own teaching had suggested, respecting the conflict- 
ing opinions of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas on the Immortality of 
the Soul. The request is said to have prompted the research which 
resulted in the treatise. No doubt such requests were frequently 
made to the free-thinking professor ; and so far the story is not in- 
trinsically improbable. But I should be inclined to attribute the 
work to more general causes. The intellectual tendencies of the time, 
together with Pomponazzi's own labours, and mental proclivities, are 
quite enough to account for its production. 

We have already 8 had occasion to notice the position of Aristotle 
during the middle ages, and his utility in furnishing to minds too large 
or too restless to be confined by ecclesiastical dogma, a point (Vappui 
for speculation outside its boundaries. In the fifteenth century it 
became necessary to review this position. The rivalry of Peripatetics 
and Platonists, which distinguished and stimulated the Italian Re- 
naissance, the research into Nature which characterized it, together 
with the discovery and printing of the original texts of Aristotle's 
writings, combined to turn men's attention to those venerated deposi- 
tories of Greek wisdom. Other critics and thinkers began, as 
Pomponazzi did, their career of free-enquiry by i Dubitazioni sopra 
Aristotle. 7 In those days such a title was hardly less than an open 
declaration of intellectual rebellion. Aristotle no longer held the 
position he had occupied during the twelfth century. 3 He was no 
longer outside the pale of Christianity. Tacitly, and unofficially, the 
Stagirite had been received into the Church. His works had been 
authoritatively reconciled with its dogmas. To effect this was the 

1 Fiorentino, Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 30. 

- See Evenings with the Skeptics, vol. ii. p. 229, on Semi-Skepticism of the 
Schoolmen. 

8 M. Jourdain places the full introduction of Aristotelian Philosophy into 
Scholasticism between a.d. 1200, and the death of Thomas Aquinas in 1272. 
See his JRecherches, etc., 2nd ed., p. 210. 



General Causes and Leaders. 197 

main object of Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, the most 
gigantic intellects among the schoolmen. There was less difficulty in 
effecting this, as few of the works of Aristotle were then known, and 
these only in the form of Latin translations made from Arabic ver- 
sions. * Doubts about Aristotle ' therefore not only implied, * Doubts 
about Aquinas and other Aristotelian ecclesiastics' whose opinions 
were considered indubitable, but were closely akin to * Doubts about 
Christian dogmas.' That his Aristotelian researches had this result 
in the case of a bold and keen-sighted thinker like Pomponazzi, can 
at least occasion no surprise. 

But besides Pomponazzi's own tendencies, another general cause 
of his research in this direction may be found in the contemporary 
stir among Italian thinkers on this very subject. The Renaissance 
was in a great degree a secularizing process ; it was a protest against 
the systematic vilification of all temporal interests, feelings, and occu- 
pations which characterized medieval thought and religion. The 
reason of this depreciation of all mundane interests and duties, on 
the part of the Church, was according to these freer spirits not far 
to find. It was by no means the unselfish wish to bring light 
and immortality to light through the gospel, nor the desire to 
secure for all men a share in the Divine bounty. Other motives 
and aspirations had long actuated Papal ecclesiasticism. Rome had 
discovered that the future world, with its deterrent and stimu- 
lating influences, was the most valuable appanage pertaining to 
the Church. It was the El Dorado whence it was enabled to draw 
the greater portion of its enormous revenues. Immortality, the 
reward or rather the necessary outcome of virtue and goodness 
according to Christianity, had become a marketable commodity, to be 
sold on the one hand and bought on the other, on as favourable terms 
as buyer or seller could obtain. The rewards of the unseen world 
were treated just as an European government, in our own day, sells 
farms and settlements in a distant colony. This excessive and in- 
terested * other-worldliness ' required, men thought, to have its founda- 
tions closely examined. Hence arose numberless enquiries as to the 
nature of the soul, its relation to the physical organization, what 
reasonable grounds existed for predicating its immortality, etc. For 
some time this formed the main topic of lectures in all the Italian 
universities. We are told that whenever a new professor at any of these 
seats of learning prepared to address his hearers for the first time, no 
matter what the subject was which he had appointed for the purpose, 
he was met by the clamorous demand, * Tell us about the soul. 7 ' A 

1 C. Bartholmess, in Diet, de Science Philosophiques, Art. ' Pomponace.' Renan 
says, ' Les discussions sur l'immortalite de Tame etaient a l'ordre du jour a la 



1 98 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

very small discussion on such a topic enabled his audience to test 
his opinions, the manner in which they had been formed, and the 
degree in which they were influenced by purely ecclesiastical con- 
siderations. On minds so excited the treatise of Pomponazzi operated 
like a spark on a prepared train. Itself the expression of profound and 
powerful feelings, it gave them an additional momentum and exten- 
sion, as well as provided them with a standpoint from which the 
whole matter might be discussed de novo. 

Turn we now to the treatise. A single glance enables us to per- 
ceive that, whatever the novelty and freedom of its conclusions, it is, 
in form, rigidly scholastic. It has its full quota of the ponderous 
argumentation, puerile distinctions and subtle refinements, which 
characterize generally the productions of the schoolmen. Some 
writers are offended at this mediseval formalism. Knowing that Pom- 
ponazzi is a man of modern intellect and sympathies, and that his 
conclusions, mainly, are novel, they seem to have expected that his 
method and style would also have been those of a modern philoso- 
phical exposition. But such persons forget that at first new ideas 
are generally best presented, so far as possible, under the form and 
dress of the old; and the methods of scholasticism, imperfect and 
antiquated as we should now consider them, yet contained enough 
valid reasoning and candid treatment to justify, at all events for the 
time, their adoption. Even the early Protestant Reformers found it 
expedient to put their new wine into the old bottles of the school- 
men, until the prejudice of those who had been so long accustomed to 
such drinking vessels should have ceased, and new bottles better 
suited for the purpose couldbe devised. 

cour de Leon X. 7 Averroes, p. 863. So Gabriel Naude, 'L'ltalie est pleine de 
libertins et d'Athees et de gens qui ne croyent rien ; et neanmoins le nombre 
de ceux qui ont ecrit de l'immortalit£ de Tame est presque infini.' — Naudceana, 
p. 46. Compare also Vanini, * Alii vero etsi ob metum Hispanicse et Italic® 
Inquisitionis ore connteantur (i.e. animi immortalitatem) operibus tamen ipsis 
abnegare non erubescunt. Plerosque enim, quo sunt doctiores, litteratioresque, 
eo magis Epicuream insectari vitam vidimus, quod nullius sane religionis ar- 
gumentum est. 1 — Amphitheatrum, etc. p. 152. It is clear that these discussions 
on immortality did not tend to confirm it in the popular creed. The Italian 
speculation of the fifteenth century is marked by a strong disbelief in the exis- 
tence of a world beyond the grave, and this decadence of the doctrine of im- 
mortality is accompanied by two other phenomena, the one moral the other 
artistic. The first is the stress on fame and glory as affording the chief im- 
pulse to all heroic actions and noble lives ; the second is the enormous and 
elaborate tombs and monuments devised by the great to perpetuate their me- 
mories — men thus proving in their very denial of immortality the irrepres- 
sible power of the instinct to which it is primarily due. See on the latter point, 
Jacob Burckhardt's Oeschichte der Renaissance in It alien, p. 265. 



General Causes and Leaders. 199 

You would not thank me, I am sure, for introducing you into the 
thorny labyrinth of dialectics of which Pomponazzi's treatise mainly 
consists, nor is it necessary: for by noticing a few of its salient points 
you will have no difficulty in apprehending the merits of the argu- 
ment, and of the conclusions of its author. 1 The treatise is partly 
critical and partly didactic. The critical portion discusses the 
opinions that have been held as to the nature of the soul by Plato, 
Aristotle, Averroes, and Thomas Aquinas. These and other authori- 
ties are so placed in juxtaposition that their contradictory expositions 
seem to refute each other. But Pomponazzi does not disguise his 
preference for Aristotle, and Aquinas, and their mode of discussing 
the question from a natural history point of view ; nor does he con- 
ceal his aversion to the Pantheistic leanings of Plato and Averroes. 
The authority to which he chiefly defers is Aristotle's well-known 
treatise De Anima. In this work are examined the functions of the 
soul, and the question is mooted how far these functions are connected 
with and dependent on the physical organization, and how far they 
are independent of it. Though Aristotle does not decide the question 
very distinctly, 2 he betrays a marked inclination towards a necessary 
connexion between the bodily organism and the faculties, intellec- 
tual as well as animal, which pertain to it. Pomponazzi may be said 
to build his own doctrine upon the lines furnished to him by this 
work of Aristotle, yet with no small independence of thought and 
method of his own. He maintains, for instance, in direct opposition 
to the teaching of his master, and not in complete conformity with 
his own, the creation of human souls. 

Coming to his own doctrine : Man, according to Pomponazzi, stands 
upon the confines of both the material and spiritual worlds, and thus 
partakes of the nature of each. For there exist in the universe three 
modes of being, viz. 1. The separate or abstract intelligence, which 
has no need of organisms or matter of any kind. 2. The souls of 
brutes, which have need of matter. 3. Human souls, which partly 
have need of matter and partly have not — needing it as an object, 
but not as a subject. 8 These three grades are reproduced in every 

1 Cf. Prof. L. Ferri, La Psicologia di Pietro Pomponazzi. The chapter of 
his commentary headed, 'Utrum anima sit immortalis secundum Aristo- 
telem ' (p. 206, etc.), is a brief summary of the argument of the larger treatise. 

8 See Aristotle, De Anima, ill. ch. 5 ; Gf. Brande's Aristotle, ii. p. 1197. 

8 'Hoc stante dicimus quod in genere cognoscentium duo reperiuntur ex- 
trema et unum medium, horum autem extremorum unum est intelligent ia, 
quae in intelligendo et cognosce ndo neque indiget corpore ut subjecto, neque 
ut objecto, veluti notum est ; alterum vero eitremum est anima bestialis cui 
proprium est indigere corpore ut subjecto et ut objecto. Medius autem est 
homo qui rationales existit. Quare de his duabus proprietatibus medio modo 



200 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

individual man in the form : 1. Of the speculative intellect, by which 
he creates science, and is like God. 2. The active intellect, by means 
of which he is concerned with material things, and creates the arts. 
3. The practical intellect, by which a man fulfils his merely animal 
part in the world. 

You will perceive then that the human soul, being partly Divine 
and partly animal, partly dependent on a material organism and 
partly not, is thereby asserted to be partly mortal and partly immor- 
tal ; or, to put Pomponazzi's distinction in the scholastic phraseology 
which he employs, the soul is absolutely mortal (simpliciter mortalis), 
and relatively immortal (immortalis secundum quid). This very 
delicate distinction may thus be, somewhat crudely, rendered: — 
Naturally and inherently the human soul is mortal, but accidentally, 
or by peculiarity of function, or circumstances, it may be immortal. 
This argument of course involves the inseparability of the intellective 
soul from the organization, which Pomponazzi, after Aristotle and 
the schoolmen, defines as its form. He gives reasons for this indis- 
cerptibility, which Professor Ferri thus summarises, 1 and which will 

(serve to show you the kind of proof which was regarded as conclusive 
on the subject not only by Pomponazzi, but by all the scholastically 
trained minds of his age. The dependance of the intellect (or intel- 
- lective soul) upon matter is necessary, according to Pomponazzi, for 
four principal reasons. 

1. Because matter, undetermined, and regarded as a potentiality, is 
the genetic principle of all forms. 

2. Because matter defined and determined as an organic body, is 
the sine qua non of the existence of the soul, as its true form. 

3. Because there is no plurality of substantial forms in man, but 
an unity of form and nature. 

4. Because the necessity of considering the universal in the par- 
ticular, the idea in the imagined picture, the intelligible in the 

I sensible, proves that the functions of the intellect, in themselves 
. spiritual, cannot be exercised without the organization. 

Though somewhat obscured by dialectical intricacy, it is obvious 
that the argument amounts to a denial of Immortality as maintained 
by the Christian Church. This conclusion was drawn by his con- 
temporaries immediately after the publication of the treatise. Nor 
was it denied by Pomponazzi himself; who confessed that as a Chris- 
tian he believed, as a philosopher he did not believe it ; according to 

debet participare; verum nullum potest inter illas extremas proprietates 
assignari medium, nisi non indigere ut subjecto et indigere ut objecto. Quare hoc 
erit proprium animi human i.' — Apol.^ Ed. Venice, 1524, fol. 53. 
1 La Puicologia, etc., pp. 69, 70. 



General Causes and Leaders. 201 

the maxim of ' twofold truth ' we have already discussed. 1 No doubt, 
this paradoxical credo may sometimes be credited with sincerity, 
though of a perverse kind ; but in the case of Pomponazzi the religious 
belief seems adopted merely to divert attention from the extent and 
preponderance of philosophical skepticism. For not only does his 
reasoning on other subjects, when Aristotle comes into collision with 
ecclesiastical dogma, betray a skeptical tendency, but on this very 
point of the future existence of the soul he reasons as if he thought he 
had established, not its immortality, but its mortality. While, there- 
fore, he professes to oscillate between philosophy and theology, his 
subsequent proceedings indicate a conviction that he has not only 
crossed the Rubicon of ecclesiastical orthodoxy, but has burnt his 
boats. What I mean is, that having denied immortality on grounds 
of psychology, he proceeds to argue that the belief is not needed as an 
appeal and support to practical ethics ; at least in the case of cultured 
and thoughtful persons. Pomponazzi is indeed the first Christian 
writer who maintains, on grounds of reason and philosophy, the 
principle of disinterested and unconditional morality ; and though of 
itself the principle does not necessarily involve a doubt of future 
existence, yet in his case, with the corroboration afforded by his 
usual attitude to difficult or mysterious dogmas, its ulterior signifi- 
cance, in a negative direction, cannot be disregarded. Nothing can 
be clearer, and in my judgment more convincingly urged, than his 
expositions of this subject. From the standpoint of Christian 
stoicism of the loftiest kind, he maintains that * the essential reward 
of virtue is virtue itself, that which makes a man happy ; the punish- 
ment of the vicious is vice, than which nothing can be more wretched 
and unhappy.' 2 This award is involved in what we should now call 
the moral order of the universe, but was then known as l the essence 
of things.' Other awards are accidental, and therefore inferior. ' For 
when a reward is conferred by accident, essential good seems to be 
diminished, nor does it remain in its perfection. Suppose e.g. one 
man acts virtuously without hope of reward, another on the con- 
trary, with such a hope, the act of the second is not held so virtuous 
as that of the first ; wherefore he is more essentially rewarded whose 
reward does not accrue to him by accident.' From this * ethical, 
sublime ' point of view, the question of the future existence or non- 
existence of the soul becomes of comparatively small importance. To 
use his own words, ' whether the soul be mortal or immortal, death 

1 See Evenings with the Skepties, vol. ii. p. 18. 

* 'Prsemium essentiale virtutis est ipsamet virtus, qu» hominem felicem 
facit. . . . Poena namque vitiosi est ipsuin vitium, quo nihil miserius 
nihil infelicius esse potest.' — De Immortal., chap. xiv. 



202 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

• 

must be despised ; and by no means must virtue be departed from, no 
matter what happens after death. 1 Whatever be our opinion of 
r Pomponazzi, and some of his teachings, it is impossible to withhold 
/ our approval from sentiments so wholesome and nobly unselfish. We 
^ shall find similar views in the case of more than one of our remaining 
skeptics ; and had better postpone the consideration of their practical 
bearings until we come to discuss Peter Charron. Probably the con- 
clusions of Pomponazzi, as well as undoubtedly those of Charron, as 
to absolute morality, were determined not' only by speculative con- 
siderations regarding a future life, but also by the practical need 
which the debased Christianity of their time suggested. They had 
to face the portentous fact that the future rewards and punishments 
of the Christian Church had become utterly ineffectual as preserva- 
tives of, or stimulants to, morality among its chief ministers, as well 
as in the very citadel of Christendom itself. 1 We can hardly wonder 
that Pomponazzi concludes, from the increasing torpor of the Chris- 
tian faith, that its end was approaching. 2 This might be called a 
fair inference from the moral conditions of the problem, and was 
destined to find a sort of fulfilment in the Protestant Reformation. 
But the prognostication, which was a favourite speculation of the 
age, was originally based upon astrological signs and portents ; 3 for 
Pomponazzi, like Cardan, and our own Roger Bacon, was a firm 

1 'Neque universaliter viri impuri ponunt mortalitatem, neque univer- 
saliter temperati immortalitatem : nam manifesto videmus multos proves homines 
credere, verum ex passionibus seduci; multos etiam viros sanctos et justos 
sciraus mortalitatem animarum possuisse.' — De Immortal., p. 119. 

* 'Quare et nunc in fide nostra omnia frigescunt, miracula desinunt nisi 
con fie ta et simulata, nunc propinquus videtur esse finis.' — De Incant., 12, p. 
286. 

8 Few mediaeval speculations are more curious than this 'Horoscope of 
Religions. 1 It was first propounded by the Arab astronomer, Albumazar, 
who made the origin of all religions and prophets depend upon certain plane- 
tary conjunctions. Christianity, e.g. depended on the conjunction of Jupiter 
with Mercury. It was held that the conjunction of Jupiter with the Moon 
would be the signal for the complete abolition of all religious beliefs. Albu- 
mazar carried his art to such perfection that by the horoscope of each religion 
he was able to determine the proper colour of its vestments. Had he exercised 
his calling in our own days, it is conceivable that English ritualists might 
have recourse to him instead of to the * Ornaments Rubric. 1 Cf . Kenan, Averroes, 
pp. 826-7 ; Bacon, Opus Maj., pp. 160-170 ; Emile Charles's Roger Bacon, pp. 
47-48. It may be added that the recorded visit of Chaldsean astrologers to the 
cradle of the Infant Jesus appeared to give an authoritative sanction to the 
application of astrology to Christianity. As the star in the east announced 
the birth of the new religion, so a similar cometary appearance or conjunction 
of planets would portend, thought the mediaeval astrologers, its final extinc- 
tion. Comp. chapter on Vanini below. 



General Causes and Leaders. 203 

believer in the influence of the stars upon existing religions and 
their destinies. Moreover, he found another argument for an ap- 
proaching convulsion and regenerating movement in Christianity, in 
Aristotle's belief that philosophy must from time to time be renewed 
and make a fresh start 

But we must, I think, admit that Pomponazzi's view of religion A 
its sanctions and its objects, was of a partial and imperfect nature. J 
Religion was to him a synonym for legisl ation : indeed he frequently 
adopts the class-name which Averroes had assigned to religions, viz. 
Laws (Leges). He was apparently aware that his lofty Stoicism, 
however much it might commend itself to the philosopher and 
thinker, was ill adapted for more general use. This he expressed by 
comparing the ignorant and unthinking to apes, who will only carry 
their burdens by dint either of coaxing or beating. 1 From this point 
of view he considered the rewards and punishments of a future life 
as useful to the legislator, to encourage or coerce those who were not 
amenable to more disinterested arguments. Indeed he accounts for 
the wide-spread prevalence of those beliefs, in other religions besides 
Christianity, by the hypothesis that legislators had chosen them for \ 
purely political purposes ; and lays down the principle that the ruler / 
may adopt any religion or religious dogma, irrespective of its truth, 
if it seems fitted to serve his purpose as an instrument of morality 
or social order. 8 Nor does he limit this permission to cases where a 
religious truth, as, e.g n immortality, is incapable of demonstration ; 
but he thinks it a praiseworthy act on the part of a ruler to invent 
parables, myths and fables in order to allure his subjects to orderly 
and right conduct. In his dealings with humanity, the philosophic 
legislator must have regard to the nature and constitution of man. 
This is so materialized and brutish, in most cases, that the only treat- 
ment available is that which nurses and doctors employ towards 
children and the sick. It cannot be denied that Pomponazzi's opinion 
of man, both as an intellectual and moral being, is contemptuous and 
cynical to an extreme degree ; and places him in close juxta-position 
with Machiavelli. Pomponazzi's intellect, like that of the Florentine 
Secretary, was of the cold, un impassioned, legal kind, which ignores 
all the more deeply seated feelings and impulses of our nature, and 
is inherently incapable of estimating the purely religious or emotional 
side of human character, whether moral or intellectual. As an in- 

1 De Immort.y chap. 14 ; De Fato, lib. Hi. chap. 16. 

* ' Respiciens legislator pronitatem viarum ad malum, intendens common i 
bono, sanxit animam esse immortalem, non curans de veritate, Bed tan turn de 
probitate, ut inducat homines ad virtutem, neque accusandus est politicus.' 
— De Immort., chap. xiv. 



204 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

stance of this incapacity on the part of Pomponazzi, I may observe 
that he classes religious faith with imagination, which, though founded 
on illusion, is nevertheless productive of wonderful effects. The 
strength of either faculty he holds to be in direct proportion to the ig- 
norance and want of cultivation of its possessor ! He however makes 
a concession to the moral nature of man which he denies to his intel- 
lect. Though no man can attain truth, a man may, though very rarely, 
attain ethical perfection ; the percentage of good men to the rest of 
mankind he estimates to be about one in a thousand. It is on this side 
that our human obligation lies. No man is obliged to be learned or 
an artist, but every man is compelled morally to acquire, or at least to 
strive for, so much ethical excellence as his reason suggests to him. 

It is quite in harmony with Pomponazzi's contempt for the vulgar, 
and his rule to treat them as children, as well as being a sort of 
practical corollary from his doctrine of Twofold Truth, that he asserts 
a philosophical * Disci plina Arcani ' — advocating the necessity of 
esoteric teaching incommunicable to the many. * These things/ he 
says, speaking of some of his advanced speculations, ' are not to be 
communicated to common people because they are incapable of re- 
ceiving these secrets (arcanorum). We must beware even of hold- 
ing discourse concerning them with ignorant priests.' For this reason 
he divides men into philosophers and religious, in harmony with his 
classification of divergent truths, the latter of whom are opposed to 
the former as fools are to the wise, * since philosophers alone are the 
gods of the earth, and differ so much from all other men, of whatever 
rank and condition, as genuine men differ from those painted on 
canvas.' 

The self-same argument on which Pomponazzi founded his doubt 

I of immortality, is the basis of his belief in the powerlessness of the 

reason to attain or comprehend truth. 'The human intellect,' he 

says, * cannot comprehend abstract things, 1 being as it is of a dual 

nature, and placed between brutish and abstract intelligences ; it can 

only perceive by means of the senses, and for that reason cannot 

apprehend itself. Hence it is unable to obtain a knowledge of the 

r universal as it exists in itself and simply; and can only do so by 

l means of the particular ; 2 or, as he elsewhere puts it, in every 

1 'Anima intellectiva est naturro ancipitis inter bruta et abstracta, non 
intelligit nisi cum adminiculo sensuum juxta illud: — "necesse est quem- 
cunque intelligentem phantasmata speculari." ' — Ferri, Pxicologia, pp. 21, 98. 

'Non est credendum quod intellectus possit ea (abstracta) recipere, quia 
intellectus est debilis, ita ut non possit tantum lumen sustinere, ideo non 
movetur ab ipsis : et propter boc poet® fingunt quod Juppiter quando aocede- 
bat ad aliquam mulierem, deponebat suam divinitatem ! ' — Op. cit., p. 89. 

2 Fiorentino, Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 171. 4 Unde (Intellectus) sic indigens cor- 



General Causes and Leaders. 205 

abstract cognition there must be some material iddlon, or individual, 
by which alone we are able to form it. You will notice that this 
denial of abstract knowledge, and the assertion of its evolution from \ 
particular objects of sensation, assimilates Pomponazzi to the Nom- / 
inalists, and to Abelard. The intellect is thus bound up in its 
existence and in its action with matter, and with senses which are 
material ; and intellectual perception of any kind, apart from and 
independent of material conditions and surroundings, is inconceiv- 
able. He rejects even the theory that our conditions of knowledge 
in a future life may possibly differ from what they are now; for 
whereas we are now dependent on material aids, it is conceivable . 
that hereafter we may not need them ; and so doing he appears to J 
me guilty of unphilosophical arbitrariness, as well of undermining/ 
his own classification of beings. For if abstract intellect cannot be 
conceived apart from matter, what becomes of the Divine intelli- 
gence, as well as that of man himself, of whose soul it forms a por- 
tion ? Nothing is in reality left but pure materialism. 1 

That a work whose conclusion, stripped of all disguise, was the 
essential corporeity of the human * intellective soul/ should have 
excited a vehement controversy was of course to be expected. We 
are told that both one and the other of the only two possible ways of 
interpreting ' immortality ' which Pomponazzi could have adopted, 
had already been forbidden by the Church. 2 But the clerical instinct 
was quite shrewd enough to apprehend danger from Pomponazzi's 
free-spoken utterances, without any suggestion from authority. The 
clamour began, in Venice, where the clergy were stirred up by a 
Minorite friar. The Doge was invoked with success, for he ordered 
the book to be burnt. But burning a book was but an insignificant 
triumph for those who would gladly have burnt the author. Accord- 
ingly the Pope was appealed to ; but, by the kindly offices of Cardinal 
Bembo, the appeal was frustrated. Kanke indeed quotes an authority 
to show that Leo X. did subsequently order Pomponazzi to retract ; 
but if so, the command was never enforced. 3 

pore ut objecto, neque simpliciter universale cognoscere potest, sed semper 
universale in singulari speculator, ut unusquisque in seipso experiri potest/ — 
De Immorty chap. ix. 

1 Fiorentino (Pomponazzi, p. 178) thus states his own conclusions from Pom- 
ponazzi's premisses, ' Da quelle premesse per6 conseguitava necessariamente 
la mortalitd delV anima umana, non potendo ella sopravvivere alia corruzione 
del corpo, nel quale si fondamentava tutto il suo pensiero.' Comp. on this 
point Bartholmess in Diet de Set, Phil. 

* Bartholmess, loc. cit. 

8 On the part which the Pope took in this matter, and which is referred to 
above (see p. 12), some light seems to be thrown by the dedication of Niphus's 



2o5 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

As the stake was not forthcoming, recourse was had to the printing 
press. A controversialist of some note, Augustine Niphus, was desired 
by Bishop Fiandino, once a friend of Pomponazzi, but soon to become 
the most implacable of his enemies, to write an answer to the treatise 
on Immortality. Meanwhile Pomponazzi again took up his pen to 
indite an Apology. 1 In this work, published in 1518, he declaims in 
bitter and sarcastic terms on the ignorance, vice and hypocrisy of the 
clergy. His enemies were not a whit behind him in plainness of 
speech ; and what they could not effect by the more refined instrumen- 
tality of wit and sarcasm, they tried to accomplish by vulgar vitupera- 
tion and low abuse. What was the effect we might ask of these 
attacks, which were continued with slight interruption to the close of 
his life, on Pomponazzi's standpoint? . . . Did he, for that or any other 
reason, modify it in subsequent writings. His two most recent critics, 
Professors Fiorentino and Ferri, differ upon this point. The former 
supposes that Pomponazzi's account of the nature of the intellective- 
soul laid down in the De Immortalitate, is distinctly developed in a 
materialistic direction in his Apologia, and in another work bearing 
the .title of De Nutritione.* Professor Ferri denies this, and supports 
his denial with an elaborate and, to my mind, conclusive argument. 3 

book, in which the author says, expressly, ' hunc libellum ad te scripsi, et sub 
amplitudine Tui Sanctissimi nominis publicandum esse curavi.' The author 
may be permitted to say that he has this rare work of Niphus, together with 
the most important of his other writings, in his library. 

1 This work, Apclogie Libri Ires, together with the two following, Contradic- 
tors tractatus doctufsimus, and Defensorium autoris, are the most valuable of 
all his writings for forming an estimate of his character. They are part of 
the collection entitled, Tractatus Acutisrimi utillimi, etc. Venetiis, 1525. 

* Cf. Fiorentino, Pietro Pomponazzi, pp. 172-175. The development is thus 
succinctly described by the learned author in his paper oxj • Luigi Ferri,' in 
the Qiornale Napoliiano, April, 1877, p. 274 : — ' parla prima della concomitanza 
dell' intelletto ; poi della probabilitd che si sviluppi dalla materia ; in fine della 
necessild che se ne sviluppi,' he adds, ' E quando parla di semplice concomitanza, 
propende a distinguere la natura dell' anima intellettiva dalle altri animi 
inferiori, dalla sensitiva, e dalla vegetativa.' 

8 See his Psicologia, etc., p. 64. The controversy on this subject has recently 
been continued in Italian Philosophical Reviews, though with a degree of 
warmth out of all proportion to the intrinsic importance of the point at issue. 
In the Giornal* Napoliiano for April, 1877 (pp. 269-803), Prof. Fiorentino 
reiterates his original statement, supporting it by additional arguments. He 
points out that Pomponazzi (see preceding note), distinguished between the 
nature and functions of the intellective-soul, and says that it is in respect 
of the latter (not the former) that there is a ' perceptible development in 
Pomponazzi's views. Professor Ferri rejoins in La Filosofta di Scuole Italiana, 
for June, 1877 (vol. xv. p. 895), denying that Pomponazzi makes such a 
distinction between the nature and functions of the intellective-soul. He 
fully adopted, says Professor Ferri, the scholastic maxim, ' operari sequitur 



General Causes attd Leaders. 207 

The only interest the question — one of extreme intricacy — has for us 
is to show that whatever doubt may exist as to the stationary or 
progressive attitude of Pomponazzi on the subject of immortality, it 
certainly was not retrogressive. His was not one of those pliant 
characters which are ready to yield to controversial clamour. It is 
true he had powerful patrons in Cardinals Bembo and Gonzaga, and 
in the authorities of his own university ; but his supreme law and 
source of confidence came from within — the strong conviction that 
whatever betide, he must follow the dictates of reason and conscience. 
Reason was, in fact, the only approach to infallibility which he ] 
acknowledged. Reason, or intellect, was superior to any human/ 
authority, even to that of Aristotle — greatest of philosophers as he pro- 
claimed him. 1 On this point he took his stand in his defensive works, 
the spirit of which, and for that matter of Pomponazzi 's whole life 
and teaching, may be exemplified by an extract quoted by Fiorentino 
from his reply to Niphus. Having said that our will should give 
way to faith, but that, the will is one thing, the intellect another, he 
continues : ' But other things are not in our power because, given the 
premisses, if the consequence follows it is not in our power to dissent 
from the conclusion. Wejnay do without reasoning altogether ; but 
we cannot grant the antecedent and deny the consequent. Heaven 
forbid that an honest man, and still more a Christian, should have one* 
thing in his heart and another on his lips. Hence in the performance 
of my duty as interpreter of Aristotle, as I am convinced his language 
should be understood, and not in a contrary manner, ought I to lie by, 
interpreting everything differently from my real sentiment? But if 
it be said — the hearers are scandalized at it. Be it so, they are not 
obliged to listen to me, or to forbid my teaching. I neither wish to 
lie, nor to bo wanting to my true conviction/ 9 

The indomitable firmness expressed in these and similar terms 
received a welcome support from the Bolognese authorities. The 
most ancient of the Italian universities remained true to her sympathy 

esse.' ' The functions depend on the nature' — (p. 401). It seems clear, to an 
impartial student of Pomponazzi, that in the case of so subtle a thinker, a 
controversy depending on refinements so minute may easily become intermin- 
able ; and must in any case be inconclusive. 

1 ' Magna est Aristotelis auctoritas, magnus est etiam rationis impetus.' Gf. 
Ferri, p. 62. In another place he says ' Magna est auctoritas Alexandri, major 
Aristotelis, maxima vero est veritatis.' On one occasion, when his university 
were celebrating with great festivities the election of Charles V., Pomponazzi 
declared from his professorial chair, ' Mallem esse Aristotelis quam Imperator 
nunc beatus de quo fiunt letitisB.' Gomp. Fiorentin in Gior. Nap. % Agosto, 
1878, pp. 121-124. 

9 Fiorentino, Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 54. Comp. Defensorium, chap. xxix. 



208 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

for freedom, and to her claim of being 'the mother of' Italian 
' Research. 1 * Pomponazzi had proposed to accept a professorship at 
Pisa, but the Bolognese refused to hear of his removal. He was then 
the most celebrated of all the Italian professors. His fame drew 
crowds of foreign students to their city. The Bolognese magistrates 
were not disposed to relinquish so much glory, and probably advantage 
as well, for the sake of a little clerical excitement. Hence, instead of 
dismissing him, they confirmed him in his professorship for a period 
of eight years, and increased his salary to 1,600 ducats. The sister 
universities were jealous of their possession of * Little Peter,' and 
would fain have attracted him each to herself. It is indeed an 
instructive example both of the freedom then enjoyed in the Italian 
universities, and of their anti-clerical sympathies, that while the 

(clergy were most vehement in their outcry against Pomponazzi, no less 
than three universities were contending among themselves which 
should possess him. Pomponazzi, however, would not forsake her 
who had truly approved herself a ' mother of studies ' to the poor 
persecuted philosopher ; and he continued to occupy his professor's 
chair at Bologna, and to gather round him the most intellectual and 
free-thinking of the youth of Italy during the brief remainder of his 
life. 

Although the treatise Be Immortalitate, and the works he wrote to 
defend it, represent the most conspicuous part of his career as a philo- 
sophical teacher and writer, he published a few other works of a novel 
and startling nature, which deserve a passing notice at our hands. 

In 1520 he published a noteworthy treatise, with the title Concern- 
ing Incantations, or the Causes of marvellous effects in Nature. 2 The 
occasion of this work was a number of enquiries put to him by a 
doctor of Mantua, respecting the. cause of certain wonderful cures 
which he had apparently effected by charms and incantations. 
Acting upon the suggestion thus brought before him, Pomponazzi enters 
upon a long dissertation of natural wonders. He takes the power of 
demons for example. As a consistent Peripatetic he could not allow 
the operation of such intermediate agencies in the production of 
natural effects. 'It would be ridiculous and absurd, 7 says he, 'to 
despise what is visible and natural in order to have recourse to an 
invisible cause, the reality of which is not guaranteed to us by any 
solid probability.' On the other hand he dared not deny that such 

1 As the mother-university of Italy, Bologna inscribed the legends on some 
of her ancient coins, 'Bononia docet,' and 'Bononia mater studiorum.' Cf. 
Muratori, Antiq. Ital., ii. p. 664. 

2 This is perhaps the best known of Pomponazzi's works, next, of course, to 
the De Immortaliiate, It forms the second in the Basle Edition of his collected 
works. 



General Causes and Leaders. 209 

mysterious powers both good and bad occupied a large space in the 
teaching of the Church ; he therefore again takes refuge in his old 
argument of ' double truth.' As a Peripatetic he refuses to believe in 
the existence of angels or spirits, as a Christian and a believer in the 
indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church, he is compelled to admit 
the existence of such beings. 1 Such is the conclusion of his argument ; 
but in concluding it he evinces a degree of clearness and boldness, 
irony and sarcasm, disdain for the superstitions of his time and 
anticipation of greater enlightenment in the future which is truly 
remarkable. Not that he openly and directly runs counter to the 
dogmas of the Church, but by adducing collateral considerations of a 
scientific and natural kind he seeks to diminish their exclusively 
miraculous import. As a Christian e.g. he must not refuse to admit the 
existence of such supernatural agencies as demons ; nevertheless he 
enquires, how far they are capable of producing those effects which 
are attributed to them. He finds that being pure spirits they can 
only operate on matter by material means. He therefore imagines, of 
course ironically, that spirits who perform bodily cures on man must 
go about with bottles of medicine, varieties of plasters and unguents, 
like so many ghostly apothecaries. 

Absolute freedom from the superstitious ideas of his time we of 
course have no right to expect. We cannot therefore be surprised if 
Fomponazzi transfers to plants, trees, stones,, etc., the occult properties 
and magical powers which many of his contemporapies asoribed to 
demons. As authorities for this belief^ he refers, to Pliny, Galen and 
others ; and though his opinions on this subject are quite as strange 
and superstitious as those of Cornelius Agrippa, we may remember 
that all progress is relative, and that the step from demons and such 
supernatural agencies to plants, animals and stones, represents a 
decided and appreciable advance in knowledge and scientific attain- 
ments. Miracles our skeptic treats in a somewhat similar manner. 
Both as an Aristotelian and as an independent investigator he is fully 
satisfied that all effects in nature are produced by constant and 
invariable laws. Miraoles therefore cannot be opposed to nature. 
That is not their true definition. Miracles are the rare events of 
nature, and their extra-natural character is an inference from that 

1 The Church is also to decide between genuine and false miraoles. ' Quod 
vero aliqua talia sint miracula, aliqua vero ejusdem species non sint, sufficit 
ecolesise catholic® auctoritas que Spiritu Sancto et verbo Dei regulatur ' {De 
Incant., c. vi.), on which M. Franck comments * L'ironie est manifesto et il faut 
avoir la candeur de 1'age d'or pour ecrire avec Hitter aux professions de foi 
chretiennes de Pomponace ' (op. cit. p. 121). But this estimate of M, Franck 
seems just as exaggerated on the one side as Bitter's on the other. See infra. 

VOL. L ^ 



2io The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

rarity. 1 Here as elsewhere he will not openly contradict the dogma 

he is discussing, he will rather reconcile it to science by modifying 

its definition. At the same time he regards true miracles, i.e. rare 

/ natural phenomena occurring periodically, of such importance that he 

[ anticipates the end of Christianity from the fact of their having quite 

\ ceased in the Church. As for simulated miracles, the marvellous 

effects for example ascribed to sacred relics, he criticises them from 

the point of view of a skeptical physician. He holds that whatever 

efficacy is truly ascribed to them is due to the subjective feeling of 

faith on the part of those who are benefited ; and that if they were 

the bones of dogs instead of holy men they would produce the same 

results,* 

As might be expected he treats the miracles of the Bible with more 
respect. He is persuaded that many of those recorded in the Law of 
Moses and the Law (i.e. Religion) of Christ were really natural 
events, contemplated and described by ignorant and superstitious 
people. But he admits this cannot be affirmed of all. Among those 
which resist the solvent agency of his rationalizing analysis, he 
especially names the resurrection of Lazarus, the healing of the man 
blind from his birth, the feeding of so many thousands with five 
loaves and two fishes, the healing of the lame man by Peter and John, 
etc., of which he says they cannot be reduced to natural causation, 
nor were they performed by any created agency. 2 All these cases 
therefore afforded scope for his bi-partite faith. As a Christian he 
received them ; as a natural philosopher, pledged to a belief in the 
irreversible laws of the universe, they transcended both his know- 
ledge and belief. They remained in his intellect, with other truths 
of the same kind, like an insoluble precipitate, resisting the action of 
all the chemical substances his knowledge enabled him to apply to 
their solution. 

In the same year in which he published his work on Incantations 
he finished another long treatise — his last important contribution to 
Philosophy — consisting of five books, and treating of such profound 

1 Miracles, he says, ' pro tanto dicuntur miracula, quia insueta et rarissime 
facta, et non secundum communem naturae cursum, sed in longissimis periodis.' 
De Incant., pp. 294-5. One of the most illustrious of Pomponazzi's countrymen 
in modern times, Gioberti, seems to have adopted a similar definition and 
explanation of miracles. Cf. Professor Ferri, Essai eur VHUtoire de la 
Philosophic en Italieau 19 *•*• Steele, ii. 188. 

* ( Medici ac philosophi hoc sciunt, quantum operentur fides et imaginatio 
sanandi et non sanandi. TJnde si essent ossa canis, et tanta et talis de eis 
haberetur imaginatio, non minus subsequeretur sanitas.'— De Incant., chap. xii., 
Opera. Ed. Basle, p. 282. 

8 De Incant.j cap. vi., op. cit., pp. 87, 88, 



General Causes and Leaders. 2 1 1 

questions as Fate, Providence, Free-will, etc. His object in writing 
this work is instructive, as it gives us an insight into the zeal and 
earnestness of his intellectual character. He tells us that he under- 
took those expositions as so many studies of the different questions 
he discusses in them, to satisfy himself as well as to instruct others. 1 
In this treatise, as in others of his writings, he asserts with consider- 
able force, but also with true philosophical discrimination, the 
doctrine of Human Liberty. He makes it the absolute source and 
condition of all morality. Predestination, which he defined as the 
relation of Providence to the individual, as Fate describes his relation 
to the universe, he therefore so interprets as to leave to man his full 
liberty of action ; and consequently his sense of moral responsibility. 
He traces this freedom of action also, on its Divine side, in the large- 
ness of the operations of Nature, making what assumes to us the 
appearance of evil to be the inevitable consequence of its infinite scope 
and variety of action. He endeavours to reconcile Human Free-will 
with Divine Omniscience, but has in the last resort to allow their 
incompatibility. He admits that Aristotle denies special providence, 
and as a philosopher his sympathies are with his master ; but as a 
Christian he opposes Aristotle, because general providence must 
needs consist of particular instances. In short, Pomponazzi's position 
with regard to all those questions which are partly concerned with 
theology and partly with the phenomena of nature and humanity, 
is precisely that which we might have expected. He approaches the 
question from the side of Natural Philosophy and Reason; as an 
Aristotelian and Professor of Medicine, rather than as a Theologian. 
He discusses and decides it, if no dogmatic considerations intervene, 
entirely from that point of view. When however, as mostly hap- 
pened, almost every step in the argument has some relation to the 
doctrines of the Church, then he proceeds more warily. If, by slightly 
modifying its usual definition, the dogma concerned may be wholly 
or partially reconciled with the dictates of reason and nature, 
Pomponazzi adopts that course. If, on the other hand, they are so 
divergent and irreconoileable that the affirmation of the one constitutes 
the denial of the other, then Pomponazzi has recourse to 'double 
truth.' 3 But this alternative he only adopts after every conceivable 

1 ' Neque enim tarn gr&nde opus aggredi, illud meum fuit consilium, scilicet, 
ut apud Bihliopolaa libri nomen meum celebrantes haberenter : sed ad versus 
ignorantiam meam murmurantis conscientise scrip turn ad hoc me compulit. 1 
— De Fato, etc., L, Proemium. Op. cit. t p. 83a. 

* The following quotations will serve to explain more fully Pomponazzi's 
position as a maintainer of twofold truth. He approves e*g % of the distinction 
of Albertus Magnus, who said that he reasoned on philosophical questions as 



212 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

method of reconciling the foes has been exhausted ; and in order to 
avert what is to him the most immoral and unjustifiable of all human 
actions, i.e. the flat contradiction of his philosophical conscience. 
Hence the numerous antinomies and dualisms, which make up so 
much of his intellectual creed, may be said to represent so many 
points where the current of his tendencies and convictions is divided 
by some dogmatic obstruction. There are intellects which attack 
such an obstacle with determination, and being unable to move it 
from their path, they lash themselves, like sea-waves against a rock, 
into a foam of anger and desperation. Other minds, like deeper 
currents, meeting the obstruction, divide themselves, and if possible 
flow round it. We already know that such a dichotomy, though 
incompatible with intellectual uniformity, is not incompatible with 
religious sincerity. We must, I think, conclude that Pompon azzi 
was thoroughly sincere. In fact there is too much earnestness and 
determination in his character to allow of any other hypothesis. 1 
/Like Pascal, he grappled with the problems of the universe with a 
/ zeal, I might say with a deadly passion, which is almost appalling 
L to witness. Speaking of his earnest attempts to reconcile Divine 
omniscience with human liberty and with the remediable evils of the 
world, he says, ' These are the things which oppress and embarrass 
me, which take away my sleep and almost my senses ; so that I am 
a true illustration of the fable of Prometheus, whom, for trying to 
steal secretly the fire of heaven, Jupiter bound to a Scythian rock, 
and his heart became food for a vulture, which gnawed continually 

a philosopher, and on theological questions as a theologian, and declined 
* miscere credita cum phisicis.' The dogmas of the Church he regarded as 
extraneous necessities, beliefs imposed ah extra, while his own convictions 
were self wrought out. The two provinces of thought might be compared to 
the differently motived obedience which a man might render to law in the 
sense of human ordinance, and in that of equity and inherent justice ; so Pom- 
ponazzi says, ' Tantum credite in Philosophic, quantum rationes dictant vobis, 
in Theologia credite tantum quantum vobis dictant Theologi.' He acknow- 
ledges that his principle of believing contradictions is opposed by Aristotle, 
but comforts himself by reflecting that one of them is only verbal, * Dicit 
Aristoteles quod nullus corde potest conoedere duo con trad ic tori a, quia 
opiniones contradictorise sunt contrarise in intellectu, sed .verbo possumus 
concedere, corde autem minime.' See Fiorentino in Oiornale Napolitano, Agosto, 
1878, p. 120. 

1 On this point most of his critics are fully agreed. Bitter thinks that 
Pomponazzi's object, in all his writings, was the reconciliation of science with 
the teachings of the Church ; but this was evidently quite a secondary matter 
in his estimation. Comp. Ferri, Psicologia, etc. Equally unsustainable is 
Hitter's proposition that Pomponazzi's theory of immortality is not incom- 
patible with the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. Comp. Fiorentino, 
p. 189. 



General Causes and Leaders. 2 1 3 

upon it.' And in the same chapter he considers the symbol in its 
general application. 'Prometheus is the (true) philosopher, who 
because he will know the secrets of God, is devoured by perpetual 
cares and cogitations. He is incapacitated from thirst, hunger, sleep, 
or from satisfying the most ordinary needs of human life; he is 
derided by all, is regarded as a fool and a heretic ; he is persecuted 
by inquisitors ; he becomes a laughing-stock to the multitude. These 
forsooth are the gains of philosophers. This is their wages.' That 
these plaintive utterances describe the trials and difficulties of his 
own position is acknowledged by all his critics, and scarcely admits 
of doubt. It is impossible to say how far his premature death may 
have been hastened by the opposition he encountered from his ecclesi- 
astical adversaries, or by the unwearied application with which he set 
himself to solve the inscrutable problems of the universe. 1 Probably 
both causes contributed to the fatal result. If so, his fate may be 
represented under another classical image besides that of Prometheus. 
He is a philosophical Laocoon, who perishes in a vain struggle with 
the twin serpent-powers — the Inscrutability of the Universe, and the 
Dogmatism of the Church. 

More than one of Pomponazzi's critics have contended that he was 
quite uninfluenced by the Renaissance, considered as a movement of 
culture. They point to the defects of his Latin style, to his complete 
ignorance of Greek, to his evident want of acquaintance with or 
regard for the Belles Lettres. But, in estimating the weight of this 
criticism, we must consider two things, (1) Pomponazzi's intellectual 
character ; (2) the full meaning of the complex movement which we 
designate the Renaissance. 

1. First and before all things, Pomponazzi was a thinker — a rational- 
istic philosopher. Language was to him merely the vehicle of his 
thought, the instrument of his ratiocination. As long as it served 
these needful purposes, he did not trouble himself about graces of 
style or ornate composition. Yet his Latin, though rude and un- 
polished, is not destitute of a certain vigour of its own. His cum- 
brous argumentation, and the involved construction of his sentences, 
must be ascribed in a great measure to his scholastic training ; partly 
also perhaps to a fulness and many-sidedness of thought transcending 
his powers of expression. Still his meaning is generally attained 
with sufficient distinctness; and his harsh constructions are some- 
times agreeably diversified by neat and epigrammatic turns of expres- 
sion. 

2. Pomponazzi's connexion with the Renaissance can only be 

1 Fiorentino, Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 68. 



214 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

denied by limiting its scope, and ignoring some of its most essential 
characteristics. The resurrection of classical literature, and its 
effect upon the artistic temperaments and sympathies of Italians, 
was only one phase of the movement, and this by no means the most 
important. It was not an inherent part of the Renaissance considered 
as a movement of thought. It was related to it as the ornamental 
setting is related to a precious stone, or as the picturesque flame and 
smoke of a volcanic eruption is related to the actual upheavals of the 
solid crust of the earth. Pomponazzi's place in the movement is as 
the exponent of its profounder and more deeply seated forces. He 
represents the craving of the human mind for freedom — the convul- 
sive struggle, for life and vital energy, of intellectual and religious 
thought, rather than the elegant expression of the former, or the poetry 
and imagination that adorned the latter. This, however, is the phase 
of the Renaissance which gives it its permanent value, and which 
constitutes the main ground of its kinship with modern thought. In 
this respect there is a considerable difference between Petrarca and 
Pomponazzi. The former may be said to include every phase of the 
Renaissance. He represents not only its free tendencies, as a new 
effort of thought (though he does not enter so fully as Pomponazzi 
V into the heart of the movement), but its highest expression, as a 
Vyearning after ideal beauty. Still, it would be clearly unjust to our 
skeptic to refuse him his due share in the sum total of the forces 
/ which make up the composite whole we call the Renaissance, merely 
because he cannot be said to embody a few of its attractive, but, 
v for the most part, superficial and evanescent features. 

As a thinker of essentially modern spirit, Pomponazzi anticipated 
some beliefs and modes of thought which have since his time 
acquired greater currency. Though, as a Christian, he detached 
Christianity from the other religions of the world, ascribing to it a 
value and destiny sui generis; as a Philosopher, he placed it on the 
same level with the other ' laws/ as they were called, of Moses, of the 
Gentiles, and of Mahomet, just as Boccaccio did in his story of the 
Three Rings, or as a modern student of Comparative Religions might 
do. He does away also with the distinction between natural and 
revealed religion, uniting all the Divine teaching in the universe 
in one harmonious whole. He assigns moreover to causation much 
of its modern position as the governing principle of all natural pheno- 
mena. Nor must we pass unnoticed his catholicity of spirit. Al- 
, though, as a philosopher and lecturer on Aristotle, he felt bound to 
/ oppose Averroes, there are patent correspondencies between his 
\ system and that of the great Arab commentator. Vanini, his own 
disciple, said that * Pythagoras would have judged that the soul of 






General Causes and Leaders. 2 1 5 

Averroes had transmigrated into the body of Pomponazzi,' 1 and it 
has been pointed out, that his opinion as to the share of the lawgiver 
in promoting the doctrine of Immortality and other religious beliefs — 
that the first man came into being by natural causes ; that miracles 
are imaginations or wilful deceptions ; that prayer and the worship 
of saints and relics are inefficacious; that religion is adapted only 
for simple people — are either taken from Averroes, or are deductions 
from his teaching. His doctrine of * twofold truth ' is also quite in 
harmony with Averroism. 2 But Pomponazzi's chief excellence, in 
my estimation, is the noble stand which he makes for pure unselfish 
morality. This is the pivot of his system, and his refuge from 
complete skepticism. Speculation, he has ascertained by painful "N 
experience, is hazardous and uncertain. The mutual conflicts and S 
disputations of the great leaders of thought are productive only of 
doubt. In his own province of natural, philosophy the case is the 
same.* £ He therefore turns to practice. ' At least there can be no ) 
mistake in virtue, and ethical perfection. To this centre all the 
different portions of his system, like the radii of a circle, are made 
to converge. He distrusts the doctrine of immortality, among other ) 
reasons, because in the form it is generally maintained he thinks it 
derogatory to virtue. He proclaims human liberty because it is 
the indispensable condition of all ethical action. The Church has its 
chief value and raison d'etre as a teacher of morality. The State is 
a human organization devised to protect and encourage virtue. In 
a word, virtue is the supreme law of the universe ; and the climax / 
of perfection both in the Divine and human character; and what- 
ever organization, ecclesiastical or political, has not this for its sole 
aim, or whatever doctrine or dogma does not directly or indirectly 
lead to it, Pomponazzi regards as worthless. All things else are ' 
liable to change : virtue, moral truth and excellence are, like their 
Eternal Creator, immutable. 

1 ' Petrus Pomponatius Philosophus acutissimus, in cujus corpus, animam 
A verrois commigrasse Pythagoras judicasset.' (AmphUhecU, Prov.^ Ex. vi. p* 86,) 
See below, the chapter on Vanini. Benan, who places this among the number 
of reckless assertions on the part of Vanini, observes that if he had known 
anything of Pomponazzi's works, he would have found that for the most part 
he opposed Averroes. Still there is, as pointed out in the text, a considerable 
amount of similarity in the Teachings of Averroes and Pomponazzi. What 
the latter chiefly complained of in Averroes was his obscurity. He says, ' Laudo 
doctrinam ejus sad obscuritatem vitupero quia non habet partes expositoris.' 
Comp. Prof. Fiorentino in the Giornale Napotitano, Agosto, 1878, p. 117. 

* Comp. Benan, Averroes, p. 274, and passim. 

8 'In ista enim philosophia Naturali potest unusquisque dicere suo modo, 
quia non sunt demonstrationes in istia.' Fiorent., Pietro Pomponazzi, p. 514, 
note. 



2 1 6 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Little remains to be added on our subject. Pomponazzi's lot was 
cast in troublous times. His life synchronizes with some of the most 
remarkable events in the early history of Modern Europe. While he 
was peacefully lecturing at Padua, Florence was undergoing those 
vehement alternations of penitence and licence which mark the 
short-lived mission of Savonarola. Luther had already commenced 
his campaign against the Papacy. Rumours and portents of im- 
minent convulsions were everywhere prevalent. Throughout the 
civilized world there was a 'distress of nations with perplexity.' But, 
for the most part these nascent forces, which were destined to change 
the face of Europe, passed by Pomponazzi unheeded. Like a hermit 
whose cell is placed on the side of a volcano, he heard the rumblings 
beneath, but was too much absorbed in his studies to note their 
purport. His whole existence, as M. Franck observes, was taken up 
by his books, his teaching, and his studious contemplation ; so that 
one may say of him, as was said of Spinoza, he was ( less a mau than 
a thought ' — an impersonal embodiment of intellectual activity. 

Pomponazzi died on the 18th of May, 1525. The honour in which 
he was held by the University of Bologna is shown by an entry of 
that date, in the Register of Doctors, a very unusual circumstance, 
we are told, in which he is styled a most excellent Philosopher; and 
it is added that ' by his death the University had lost its greatest 
ornament.' His disciple and friend, Cardinal Gonzaga, better known 
as the future President of the Council of Trent, caused his remains 
to be removed to his native Mantua, and erected a monument of 
bronze to his memory. 

Professor Fiorentino sums up his preliminary account of Pom- 
ponazzi's life and works, by a parallel between his death and that of 
Socrates, which I here transcribe: — * Socrates on the approach of 
death — a martyr for the truth— did not flee from his fate. He did 
not wish to escape from the prison in which he was confined. Un- 
disturbed, and in all serenity, he fixed his attention on Future Life. 
A most beautiful woman appeared to him in a dream, and appointed 
him a place in one of the fortunate islands. 1 "Three days hence, 
Socrates," she said to him, "you will arrive at fertile Phthia." Hence 

1 * La bellissima donna apparsagli in sogno gli da la posta per un' isola for- 
tunata,' etc. Comp. Plato, Crilon, and Cicero, De Div., i. xxv. ; but the learned 
Professor has mistaken the purport of the original quotation, which is from 
the 9th Book of the Iliad, v. 863, and relates primarily to Achilles' anticipa- 
tion of returning home. In its secondary application to the approaching fate 
of Socrates, it is employed in the sense, so widely distributed, in which death 
and the future world are spoken of as ( home/ Gf. Stallbaum's Note, Plato., 
om. Opera, i. 126. 



General Causes and Leaders. 217 

Socrates resisted all the entreaties of Krito, and contemplated with 
firmness, the poisonous draught, and even death itself ; and he talked 
with PhaBdo, with Cebes and with Simmias, as with men from 
whom he would be parted only for a short time, and with whom there 
would afterwards be a common meeting in a place more beautiful 
and serene. The aureole of martyrdom, the anticipation of a blissful 
futurity soothed the bitterness of parting, and gave the dying Socrates 
a foretaste of the felicity which he expected — the reward reserved 
for his constant virtue. 

4 Let us now look at another picture. Pomponazzi, worn out by 
years, harassed by sickness, extended on the bed of pain, without 
the splendour of martyrdom, fought out the battle with his enemy — 
unseen, tardy, irresistible. Unsustained by the hope of the future, 
he placed before him only austere virtue, without reward and without 
hope, as the true and final end of the human race. Out of sympathy 
with the beliefs of his religion, and with the traditions of so many 
centuries ; mocked by contemporaries, and in danger of the stake, he 
had no future blessedness to which to turn. He was not cheered by 
the smile of the beautiful woman, who invited Socrates to Phthia. He 
was soothed neither by Homeric fantasies, nor by the more spiritual 
but not less interested promises of the Christian Paradise; and not- 
withstanding all this, he was not disturbed by his imminent death. 
It behoved him, he said, to prefer duty to life. He sacrificed every- \ 
thing — affections, pleasure, knowledge, and the future — to rigid virtue. J 
Which man is the more magnanimous and sublime, Socrates or • 

Pomponazzi ? ' Whatever we may think of th,is striking parallel, we 7 — / 
must, I think, acknowledge the greatness of Pomponazzi's life and 
character ; as well as admit the enormous influence which he wielded 
as a teacher of philosophy. He founded a school, not perhaps 
numerically great, but possessing some very renowned names — Simon 
Porta the great Aristotelian of Naples, Sepulveda, Julius Caesar 
Scaliger, Vanini, Zarabello and Cremonini were directly or indirectly 
his pupils. 1 And wherever the lessons of his life and teaching 

1 The extent to which Pomponazzi's name became identified with all the 
freer and anti-ecclesiastical movements of Italian thought long after his death, 
is well known to the student of Italian Philosophy. A striking example of 
this is furnished by Bishop Burnet's Letters from Switzerland and Italy , 1685. 
Thus he remarks, ' There are societies of men at Naples of freer thought than 
can be found in any other place of Italy. The Greek learning begins to 
flourish there, and the new Philosophy (Cartesianism) is much studied, and 
there is an assembly, that is held in D. Joseph Valeta's library, composed of 
men that have a right taste of true learning and good sense. They are ill- 
looked on by the clergy, and represented as a set of atheists, and as the spawn 
of Pomponatios's school ; but I found no such thing among them. 1 P. 207. 



2 1 8 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

penetrated, the spirit that animated them bore its noble fruit. There 
was manifested a disinterested, untiring devotion to learning, an 
implicit belief in the power and essential divinity of the human 
r reason — a full persuasion that unwearied search for truth is the 
^ highest, if not the whole, duty of man. Especially was the indomit- 
able independence of Pomponazzi's intellectual character productive 
of valuable results. The Renaissance had, in this respect, accom- 
plished its mission. The newer thought to which it had given 
birth, which it had carefully nursed and cradled, was now able for 
the most part to shift for itself, and make its own way in the world. 
In politics, in science, in philosophy and in religion, modern thought 
was breaking away from the old lines and landmarks. Pomponazzi 
recognized and prepared for the change. All the main principles of 
his teaching were accepted and employed by succeeding thinkers. 
<■• His doctrine of * twofold truth,' the distinction between * credita 7 and 
* phy sica ' — dogmas to be believed without question and natural pheno- 
mena to be received only after verification — was adopted by Galileo 
and his followers. His belief in the government of the universe by 
uniform and invariable laws has become the foundation-stone of all 
modern physical science. Lastly, and this seems to me his greatest 
merit : in an age when the foundations of morality and social life 
were undermined by the proved weakness and insecurity of the 
ecclesiastical sanctions on which they were hitherto based, Pom- 
ponazzi discerned the importance as well as truth of eternal and 
immutable morality. When Aristotle was once questioned as to the 

fgain he had derived from philosophy, he answered, * This, that I do 
from love of virtue, and hatred of vice, what you only do from hope 
of reward or fear of punishment. 7 Philosophy had taught Pom- 
ponazzi the same indomitable faith in the inherent and indestructible 
distinctions of morality. His lesson, and the spirit with which he 
urged it, was caught up or revived by Peter Charron, Spinoza, 
Lessing and Kant ; and is gradually, we may hope, becoming more 
and more incorporated with the ethical teaching of our modern 
Europe. Like every other thinker whose energies and aspirations 
are hampered by harsh and unauthorized restrictions, Pomponazzi 
was accustomed to find in the future, with its ameliorations, a solace 
for the privations and shortcomings of his own time. In such a 
mood we may imagine him indulging in the anticipation which 
Lessing has put into his own glowing words : * Sie wird kommen, 
sie wird gewiss kommen die Zeit der Vollendung, da der Mensch, 
je iiberzeugter sein Verstand einer immer bessern Zukunft sich 
fuhlet, von dieser Zukunft gleichwohl Bewegungsgriinde zu seinen 
Handlungen zu erborgen nicht nothig haben wird, de er das Gute 



General Causes and Leaders. 219 

thun wird weil es das Gute ist, nicht weil willktirliche Belohnungen 
darauf gesetzt sind, die seinen flatterhaften Blick ehedem bios heften 
und starken soil ten die innern besseren Belohnungen desselben zu 
erkennen.' 



Miss Leycester. To all which I would devoutly say Amen. 
. . . But I hope, Dr. Trevor, you do not intend us to discuss 
the whole Italian Renaissance at a single sitting, because if so ^ 
it is likely to be a protracted one. 

Trevor. By no means. No one can be more aware of the 
manifoldly varied aspects of the whole movement than myself. 
The utmost we can do is to select a few salient or noteworthy 
topics from the general mass of matter I have brought before 
you. . . . Moreover, we must bear in mind that our main 
subject, round which our discussions should revolve, is Free- 
thought. This is the centre about which I have grouped my 
Italian planets, from Dante to Pomponazzi. 

Arundel. Well, starting from that centre I must confess 
that I thought your general conclusions were frequently 
vitiated by a tendency too common to all investigations on the 
subject — I mean a disposition to exaggerate, in the direction \ 
of Free-thought, the implications derivable from the free J 
speech of Italians. Because, for instance, the old mysteries / 
or the Goliard or Proven9al poetry, were redolent of free ex- 
pression, that seems to me no sufficing warrant for inferring 
that the freedom was intended to be taken au pied de la lettre. 
Nothing is more remarkable in the Italian temperament — 
I suppose it belongs to all the Latin races — than the dispro- 
portion that exists between speech and genuine sentiment. 
When I first visited Italy some years ago I was greatly 
struck by the freedom with which young men spoke of 
their parents. I naturally thought that parental obedience 
was anything but a national virtue ; but I soon found I was 
mistaken. Further acquaintance with the people convinced 
me that the young really did pay extreme deference and 
respect to their parents. An oft-quoted illustration of the 
same fact is the behaviour of the Neapolitan mob when the 
liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius is delayed. They 



220 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

call him l villain/ l blackguard, 7 and every other opprobrious 
name they can think of; but no sooner is the hocus-pocus 
successful, and the blood declared to be liquefied, than they 
immediately fall on their knees, and thank him with every 
demonstration of adoring gratitude and piety. 

Harrington. The characteristic is well-known; but it is 
not adequately described by calling it a divergence between 
the sentiment felt and uttered. Its source is an extreme 
sensitiveness or impressionability, which is aj%%> seem evan- 
escent, not because it is superficial, but because it pertains to a 
strongly and variously emotional nature. Thus the vitupera- 
tion of Neapolitans at the tardiness of JanrH^us is just as 
as their profuse gratitude when he appearf^to accede to 
their ^fta^-^Agplying the argument to Renaissance litera- 
ture, I should say^fttt^th© expressions of Free-thought, e.g. 
in the songs of Goliards^ot*sL& the Decameron, or Morgante, 
must be taken for what they a*^--the actual sentiments of 
the writers at the time of writing. BUit we must bear in mind 
that the errant cleric, or Boccaccio or ^ulci, might have been 
surprised into very different arguments and sentiments at 
another time. 

Trevor. I fully admit — indeed I have often been amused 

at this trait of Italians — nor do I think I have lost sight of it 

in my description of the Renaissance. When you cannot take 

a man's words as the symbol of his definite settled conviction, 

/you must take his general tone, his line of reasoning, the spirit 

/ which seems to underlie his thought. This I have honestly 

I attempted to do. As a result, it appears to me that the litera- 

1 ture of the Renaissance is a bona fide expression of extreme 

V&eedom not to say licence. I am prepared, however, to 

acknowledge that the free sentiments of Italians, and in a 

lesser degree of the French, would mean somewhat more if 

employed by Englishmen and Germans. 

Arundel. With that acknowledgment I am content . . . 
but I might have based my objection upon other than national 
grounds. . . . Skepticism is precisely one of those for- 
bidden subjects on which most men, even Germans and 
English, are apt to claim a licence of speech far exceeding 
their real opinions. 



General Causes and Leaders. 221 

Harrington. It is as well not to insist too strongly on 
national peculiarities in estimating the Free-thought of the 
Renaissance. A good deal of the liberal anti-dogmatic senti- 
ment touched upon in Trevor's Paper, as e.g. the Goliard 
poetry, Proven9al literature, the mysteries, moralities, and 
miracle plays, were the common possession of the whole of 
civilized Europe. 

Arundel. Another objection I feel to the Doctor's paper is 
that it did not appear to contain any sufficing admission of the 
consequences of licence of thought in inducing licence of 
manners. The most repulsive feature of the Renaissance, to 
most students, is the extreme moral laxity which seems to have 
affected more or less every class of society. To me this 
appears an inseparable attendant on and result of Skepticism. 
At least in the cases of Greece and Rome the advance of 
extreme libertine opinion, combined with skeptical inroads 
into ancient beliefs, synchronize exactly with a marked deterio- 
ration of social manners, and an increase of political corruption. 
Macchiavelli did no more than give expression to this truth 
when he said, that States not held together by the bonds of 
religion were on* the road to ruin. 

Trevor. I am quite willing to concede — for that matter it 
would be difficult to deny — the ethical laxity of Italy during 
the Renaissance ; but I should be inclined to ascribe it to other 
causes. To me it appears the joint product of several con- ) 
tributory agencies. First among them I should place the 
social disorganization which was the inevitable consequence of ^ 
the political divisions of Italy, and the continual wars thereby/ 
engendered. While allied with, and to a great extent caused 
by, this internecine strife, must be reckoned the perpetual^ 
irruptions of foreign, and for the most part mercenary, armies. 
No fact is more indelibly impressed upon mediaeval Italy than 
the peculiar and extreme lawlessness which followed, like the 
slime of a reptile, in the train of these foreign invaders ; and 
this quite irrespective of their nationality or religion; for 
French and Spanish invaders were not much superior in this 
respect to the Lombards. Secondly, I should place as the next 
cause of social depravity, the utter corruption of the Romish^ 



222 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Church. For centuries it had been the policy of Rome to tie 
up all moral duty with religious service, in such a manner, as 
implicitly to deny the existence of ethical principles or conduct 
outside her pale. The consequence was, that when her corrup- 
tion and depravity became too conspicuous to be denied, the 
whole fabric of moral duty tended to crumble to its ruin. I 
have however said enough on this point in my paper. Thirdly, 
we must, as I have more than once remarked, make fair allow- 
ance for the natural tendency of new-born freedom to rush into 
excess. It is now an acknowledged law of history that no 
great liberating movement, begotten of intellectual and social 
fermentation, and having for its object the enfranchisement of 
the long enslaved conscience and intellect of humanity, can be 
accomplished without excesses. Indeed, it seems a general law 
of the universe that a new birth of any kind is only con- 
summated at the cost of much pain and suffering. Christ's 
own announcement of the effect of His revelation, ( Think ye 
that I am come to send peace on earth : I tell you nay, but 
rather a sword/ is applicable to every revolution whose object 
is the Divine cause of justice and freedom. . . . You 
must also remember that, on the principle of necessity being 
the mother of invention, the lawlessness of the Renaissance 
had the effect of inciting men to discover remedies for it. 
Machiavelli's Prince indicates one remedy, perhaps then the most 
obvious — political force and coercion. Another, and better, 
was the tendency to throw off ecclesiasticism, and to return to 
the primary foundation and ethics of the gospel — while Pompo- 
nazzi, as we saw, went a step further, and sought for it in the in- 
trinsic claims of virtue, and the natural repulsiveness of vice. 

Harrington. Your plea, I think, is justifiable ; but you seem 
to me to have slightly waived the main issue. The question 
is : Did Skepticism of itself induce a laxity of manners in those 
who adopted it? I think it must have done so in certain 
cases. Nor should I deem that such a concession contains 
anything derogatory to Skepticism. There are few principles 
in the world so inherently faultless as not to disclose in their 
working and operation upon differently constituted characters 
various seamy sides. 



General Causes and Leaders. 223 

Miss Leycesteb. There is also another reply to Mr. 
Arundel's objection. The expressions of libertine and profane 
thought which we find in Renaissance literature may be far 
in excess of real action or usual habit, just as skeptical expres- 
sions may have implied a greater latitude of thought than 
really existed. . . . What appears to me the most remark- 
able feature in the history of the period is the * Weltschmerz ' 
of some of its leading thinkers. There is something pathetic- 
ally ironical in the fact that men who laid such stress on 
Naturalism, and who resuscitated the long-lost belief in the 
joys and duties of mundane existence, extinguished as it was 
by mediaeval asceticism and other-worldliness — should have 
suffered so severely from what I suppose must have been a 
sense of the worthless or unsatisfactory nature of their effects. 
One is inclined to ask, does unsufferable ennui follow upon an 
exaggerated estimate of terrestrial existence, for a similar 
reason that Pessimism and Nihilism tread on the heels of 
Materialism ? 

Harrington. It seems difficult to lay down any absolute 
rule for aberrations of human sentiment, even when they are 
manifested as general characteristics of any particular epoch. 
For myself, I should say that in the Italian Renaissance the 
feeling was a relic of that extreme asceticism of mediaeval 
times to which you have alluded. 

Arundel. On the other hand, it may have been a reaction 
from the mundane enjoyments men sought to find in establish- 
ing Nature as their Deity, and obedience to her behests as 
their duty. Both the conception, and its actual practice, could 
not but cloy, in the case of intellects so comprehensive and 
feelings so profound as e.g. those of Petrarca. 

Trevor. My theory of the matter is much more simple. 
* Weltschmerz,' or intellectual ennui, is not an affection con- 
fined to any age, or to any particular type of thought. It is, 
in my opinion, totally independent of all general movements, 
whether in religion or anything else. I regard it merely as 
the reaction which under all circumstances follows intellectual > 
labour, the lassitude that follows over-tension of brain-tissue. 
Depression is, as all students know, the invariable concomitant 



224 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

of severe intellectual work ; and if not resisted may easily lead 
to a systematic contempt for existence, such as that displayed 
by Petrarca, Machiavelli, and Guicciardini. ... I need 
not add that, when strongly marked, it is often a precursor of 
cerebral disease. 

Miss Leycester. Of course we cannot pretend to dispute 
your opinion when medical subjects are concerned; but it 
seems to me clear that the feeling we are discussing does pre- 
sent itself in epochs. We have seen it strongly marked in the 
Renaissance. We find it again in the French Revival of 
Literature, immediately preceding the Revolution. Traces of 
it present themselves in our Elizabethan era. It is strongly 
impressed upon the German ' Sturm und Drang/ and lastly it 
is dominant in the absurd Pessimism of German present-day 
thought — the lowest depths to which German speculation has 
yet reached. 

Trevob. You might have added the Augustan period of 
Roman literature — our theories, however, are not altogether 
irreconcilable. Grant that ' Weltschmerz ' is a reaction after 
severe mental toil, and it will naturally present itself as a 
general feature of every epoch of unusual intellectual activity. 
All I wish to protest against is the consideration of it as an 
epidemic or contagious disease. It is entirely individual ; and 
depends upon the cerebral and nervous constitution of the 
sufferer. An induction of its more celebrated victims will 

• 

(readily show us that it manifests itself in most cases where 
the sentiment or imagination of the student predominates over 
his purely intellectual faculties. Indeed, the measure of re- 
sistance that a severe brain-worker is able to oppose to the 
feeling forms a fair criterion of the native vigour and recupera- 
tive energy of his intellect. 

Harrington. I have never seen brought out so fully as I 
think the subject deserves, the intimate connexion that existed 
between Italy and England, as regards the Naturalism that 
marks the Renaissance of the former and the Reformation of 
the latter country. Shakespere and Ren Jonson may stand 
as types of the tendency in the Elizabethan Age, as Boccaccio, 
Pulci and Ariosto in the Renaissance. In both schools there 



General Causes and Leaders. 225 

is the same vigorous vitality — the same healthy appreciation 
of mundane existence. So far as originality goes, the palm, I 
suppose, must be assigned to Italy. Indeed, the extent of 
indebtedness of our Elizabethan literature to the Italian 
Renaissance, which our literary historians are only beginning 
to recognise at its full value, seems to me quite embarrassing. 
Not only the materials for the Shaksperian dramas, to take 
the most conspicuous instance, but the spirit which evolved 
them, are importations from the Golden Age of Italian litera- 
ture. Hence, if Shakspere is — to use a phrase of Jacobi's — 
* a Christian in heart, in intellect he is a pagan ' ; and his 
paganism has most of the attributes of the Renaissance pro- 
duct of the same name — a clear perception and forcible grasp 
of terrestrial realities and enjoyments, combined with a con- 
temptuous ignoring of speculative truths, whether philosophical 
or theological. It would not be very difficult, in my opinion, 
to prove that Shakespere is himself more than half a skeptic. 

Tbevob. For that matter, the difficulty in these days is to 
affirm what Shakspere has not been demonstrated to have 
been. Certainly he knew how to dramatize doubt in action. 
For doubt in speculation I cannot believe that he cared. His 
own idiosyncrasies were so entirely and exclusively practical 
that he was content to ignore all theorizings of whatever kind. 
Therein lies, in my opinion, his inferiority to Goethe. 

Miss Leycestee. Goethe no doubt displays the warp and 
woof — the visible texture — of his speculations more clearly 
than does Shakspere. That seems the greatest distinction 
between them. Goethe shows us his metaphysical ratiocina- 
tions in the making ; but Shakspere gives us his as the finished 
product — the woven material of his mental loom applied to the 
ordinary uses of human existence. Hence we may regard his 
practical tendency as the final result of effective contempla- 
tion, and definitively attained conclusions, on the problems of 
the universe. There are many passages in his works which 
appear to me to show that this was the case. This would 
rather prove than disprove his Skepticism ; for, as we know, 
the concrete and practical is a favourite refuge for all doubters 
from the uncertainties and disappointments of pure speculation 

vol. 1. Q 



226 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

. . . but I have myself a few criticisms to offer on Dr. 
Trevor's Paper. First, as to Dante, regarding him from the 
standpoint of Free-thought ; I should have liked some account 
of the effect produced by the Divina Commoedia on subsequent 
popular theology. I refer especially to the Inferno, and what 
I consider the mischievous results of its vividly realistic 
pictures in directing, confirming and intensifying ordinary 
belief in the eternity and severity of hell-torments. The 
thinkers, I quite grant, were affected in quite an opposite 
direction. Instead of persuasion, the horrible torments of the 
Inferno induced in them a healthy repulsion. While as to its 
eternity, Pulci proves its injustice in a single couplet. It is 
in the complaint of that most anti-diabolical devil Ashtaroth, 
who contrasts the ready pardon granted, for a single petition, 
to Christians with the inexorable doom of himself and his 
fallen brethren : — 

( Noi peccammo una volta, e in sempiterno 
Eilegati siam tutti nello inferno.' l 

But on the ignorant, the timid and unreflecting, the atrocities 
of the Inferno must have exercised a most pernicious influence. 
Literature, in the person of its highest living representative, 
had come forward to supplement and corroborate the super- 
stitious teaching of friars and preachers. It thus threw men 
still more into the selfish grasp of the Church. Who would 
not have sacrificed his last farthing in delivering a dear friend 
from the miseries of some of these filthy bolgias, which 
Dante's ungainly imagination had painted in such loathsome 
colours? Moreover, the extra punishments he awarded to 
heretics, combined with the similar treatment of those un- 
fortunate speculators in Italian religious art, must have tended, 
in many cases, to repress all independent thought. In short, 
the Inferno of Dante, whatever its merits as a work of poetry, 
added indefinitely to the harshness and severity of a doctrine 
which under any form is painfully repulsive to a humane 
mind. 
Harrington. I think you exaggerate the effects of a purely 

1 Morgante, Canto xxv. sir. 284. 



General Causes and Leaders. 227 

imaginative work upon the average mental faculties of man- 
kind. Men's convictions, in most cases, are not permanently 
modified by appeals to their sympathies whidh they know are 
founded on fictitious bases. Take the case e.g. of a novel 
reader whose feelings are sought to be enlisted on the side of 
an imaginary hero or heroine, of whose principles or conduct 
he may not approve — the sympathy he might otherwise have 
felt will, in this particular instance, be counteracted by dis- 
sentient conviction. Or take the case of a cultured Unitarian 
who listens to the Passion-music of Handel's Messiah. He 
may feel for the time his emotions stirred by music and words 
from whose implication, regarded as dogmatic propositions, 
he altogether dissents. Similarly, readers of Dante's Inferno 
might be pleasurably affected by the poetio beauties of the 
work, and yet, unless their conviotions had already been 
pledged, would neither feel inoreased anxiety for departed 
relatives, nor would they abstain from speculation on account 
of the punishment supposed to be inflioted on errant thinkers. 

Miss Leycester. But you are begging my whole position, 
Charles. The Inferno of Dante was addressed to men whose 
convictions were already, and most heartily, enlisted in its 
favour. The poem was a vivid elaboration of a doctrine they 
had long believed, upon what they regarded infallible authority. 
It was just this confirmation and detailed elaboration of an 
old article of their faith, that made the Inferno so dangerous. 

Mrs. Harrington. My own criticism of the Divina Com- 
mcedia is, that it appears to me an unsatisfactory handling of 
the whole theme. No doubt it is full of poetic beauties ; but 
neither the Purgatorio nor Paradiso — the Inferno I omit as a 
non-existent state — convey my ideal of the future world. 
Indeed the Paradiso, for the most part, is only a celestial 
canopy designed for the especial purpose of the enthronization 
of Beatrice. 

Arundel. I suspect, Mrs. Harrington, that like so many 
other readers of Dante, your dislike of II Paradiso is founded 
upon what is in reality its most marvellous feature, i.e. its 
exceedingly impalpable and superhuman character. It soars 
so far above the sphere of our ordinary occupations, thoughts 



228 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

and interests, that it necessarily forfeits some measure of our 
active sympathy. It is very remarkable that the division of 
the Commoedia in which humanity approximates most to our 
actual experience (I am not speaking satirically) — I mean the 
Inferno — has always been that part of it which has commanded 
most general appreciation. As to Beatrice, I readily grant 
that, even in her heavenly character of Theology, she occupies 
a disproportionate space in the common home of all the 
blessed. -She is, besides, too ecclesiastical and dogmatically 
speculative to be Christian after the mind of Christ. 

Miss Leycester. Speaking of the celestial Beatrice of 
Dante, we are naturally reminded of her sister in literature — 
the beatified Laura of Petrarca. In your remarks on Petrarca, 
Doctor Trevor, you did not assign a philosophical reason why 
the cult of women assumed the rather extravagant form it 
seems to have attained in the thirteenth and fourteenth cen- 
turies. Are we to take it as an outcome of chivalry, or of 
religion? 

Trbvor. Primarily, I should say, of religion; secondarily 
and directly, of chivalry. The gradual growth of Mariolatry 
in the Church, together with the mingled refinement of 
manners and deference to women engendered by the inter- 
course of Europe with the East, furnished a double foundation, 
sacred as well as secular, for the fancies of Dante and Petrarca 
— not to mention the personal tendencies of those two poets. 

Harrington. I must say, Doctor, that I thought you gave 
an ingenious but not quite fair advantage to Skepticism, in the 
case of Petrarca, by making his Laura the setherialized symbol 
of unattained desire. No doubt his passion for her became 
ennobled and sublimated as he grew older, but its ultimate 
form was rather a spiritual type of womanliness than that of 
unrealized aspiration. Petrarca's Skepticism was not, I think, 
sufficiently pronounced to have suggested such an excogitation. 

Trevor. My reason for that view, which was thoroughly 
well considered, was Petrarca's undeniable melancholy as he 
approached the end of his life. All his later writings betray 
such a profound sense of the vanity of mundane existence 
and objects — such a tender, wistful longing for some worthier 



General Causes and Leaders. 229 

attainment — while, pari-passu with the growth of these feelings 
there is an increased appreciation of the spiritual excellencies 
of Laura, that any other interpretation of her final relation 
to Petrarca is to me almost inconceivable. This view seems 
moreover confirmed by many expressions in the latter half of 
his Rime ; several passages of which I had marked for quota- 
tion, but omitted in order to save time. As to Petrarca's 
Skepticism, it was of a mingled quality. It was not exclu- 
sively, or even mainly, an intellectual product, being just as 
much emotional and sentimental. It was the outcome of 
passions unsatisfied, aspirations unrealized, as well as of truth 
unattained. He is, in point of fact, an interesting example of 
the combination of intellectual distrust with emotional dis- 
satisfaction — a kind of mystical skeptic. 

Abundel. On the subject of Boccaccio, Trevor, I must 
enter a protest against your interpretation of his Three Rings. 
You seemed to imply that the story contained nothing- deroga- 
tory to Christianity. I cannot perceive how, from the stand- 
point you adopted, you could have arrived at that conclusion. 
Certainly, if the story as you interpreted it teaches anything, 
it teaches the co-equality of all Religions ; and from that point 
of view Christianity can claim no superiority over the other 
two Semitic creeds; and there is therefore no real reason 
why Christians might not become Jews or Mahomedans. Now 
while I readily admit that every form of faith may have its 
own good sides, and that there is a peculiar suitability of the 
great religions of the world to the races among which they 
originated — while also I repudiate the conclusion that the 
Divine love is confined exclusively to those of my own creed ; 
still I cannot, as a Christian, allow that Judaism and Mahome- 
tanism are on precisely the same level with my own faith. 
Nor do I think your interpretation of the story justified, either 
by its original form in the Decameron, or by Lessing's re- 
adaptation in Nathan der Weise. In the two cases the original 
ring remains. Boccaccio expressly calls it the True Ring, 
and the other two are therefore only imitations. It appears to 
me that this single fact is of itself enough to set aside the 
complete co-equality of the three rings. Boccaccio implies 



230 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

that next in merit to Christianity — the original ring, and the 
prototype and exemplar of the other two — stand the remain- 
ing rings, Judaism and Mahomedanism. 

Trevor. I can appreciate the feeling which prompts your 
objection; but the real question at issue is concerned with 
Boccaccio's words. These must, I think, be held to signify 
that the three rings are of precisely similar construction, and 
of equal value. Moreover, it is the father himself who has 
copies made of the original ring; and why? Not as you 
would" imply, to mark a preference for one son above another., 
but for the very opposite reason, — because he loved his three 
sons equally and would make no invidious distinction of one 
above the rest. . . . But stay ! Here is a good translation 
of the Decameron. I will hand it to Harrington ; and let him 
decide the matter. 

Harrington. Thanks, I don't want the translation. I 
remember Boccaccio's words perfectly well, and their only 
meaning is, in my opinion, what the Doctor contends for. I 
can find nothing on which to base the conclusion of designed 
inequality in the worth of the rings. The declared intention 
of the father is that the rings should be absolutely indis- 
tinguishable, both in construction and value, one from the other. 
Lessing's words — 

' . . . Da er ihm die Binge bringt 
Kann selbst der Vater semen Musterring 
Nicht unterscheiden ' — 

are almost a literal rendering of Boccaccio. Besides, the 
original ring, if it be distinguishable from the other two, 
must have been not Christianity but Judaism, as the earliest 
Semitic faith. I won't say that this interpretation of the 
relations of Christianity to the other two creeds is without 
difficulties. Still this is, in my judgment, the meaning of 
Boccaccio's words; and this construction of them is rather 
intensified than lessened in Nathan der Weise. 

Miss Leycester. My solution of Mr. Arundel's difficulty, 
and the reconciliation for Christians of the pre-eminence of 
their faith with a due recognition of the merits of Judaism 
and Mahomedanism would be this: — The three start from a 



General Causes and Leaders. 231 

common origin, and possess, for the most part fundamentals in 
common. That is, they have all three alike an ethical basis. 
They aim at establishing virtue and goodness, justice and 
charity, among men. Judaism, Christianity and Mahomed- 
anism have in this respect a common object. But in carrying 
out and developing that object, the means may vary; and 
Christianity may well, to a thoughtful Christian, seem to have 
superior sanctions, higher affinities, historical and otherwise, 
and to lead generally to a nobler life. But so far as the moral 
bases, the direct intention, the indispensable requisites of the 
religions are concerned, the three rings may be said to be 
identical. 

Abundel. I cannot accept your rendering of Boccaccio's 
words ; nor can I admit Miss Leycester's ingenious comment 
upon them. If your construction held good, Boccaccio would 
be a complete Skeptic, maintaining the absolute indifference 
of all religious creeds; and that would be an inference directly 
contradicted by his whole life. 

Miss Leycesteb. I could have wished, Dr. Trevor, that you 
had expended a little more space on Pulci. As a type of the 
general Skepticism of the Renaissance, I think he stands 
higher than Pomponazzi; who seems to me too terribly in ] 
earnest to be an exponent of a movement that had so many I 
lighter elements of gaiety, frivolity and insouciance inter- ■* 
mingled with it. Besides which, Pomponazzi's Skepticism was 
altogether an academic product. It was the Free-thought of K 
Pulci and Ariosto that formed the topics of conversation at the ' 
courts of Italian princes, and in the mansions of Florentine 
merchants. Pulci, in short, was a free-thinker in Belles Lettres;\ 
Pomponazzi in the severest walks of philosophy. Now the\ 
general literature and popular affinities of the Renaissance 
seem to affect the former muoh more than they do the latter. 

Trevor. I quite acknowledge Pulci's claims from the 
standpoint you mention. He is, as you say, the free-thinker 
of courts and of literary and civic circles. But for that very 
reason his contribution to the Free-thought of the Renaissance / 
is not so permanently valuable as that of Pomponazzi. Wit, I 
banter and sarcasm have their fitting place in every intel- 



232 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

lectual movement ; bat those agencies are neither so effective 
nor so durable as intellectual power. Pomponazzi is especially 
the thinker — the reasoner ; and it is in its ratiocination, in 
the free and independent play of the purely intellectual 
faculties, that the especial value of the Renaissance to European 
thought chiefly consists. 

Harrington. I was glad to hear you place Pulci's Devil 
Ashtaroth, on a higher pedestal than Dante's malicious monkey- 
fiends, Milton's diabolical giant, or Goethe's sneering demon. 
All the latter creations seem to me to savour strongly of melo- 
drama, and to betray a tendency to the excessive denigration 
against which a common proverb warns us. Now *once grant 
the ordinary theological account of the origin of these infernal 
spirits, and all such representations must appear over-strained 
. and exaggerated. Their very title, 'fallen angels,' implies 
that half mournful reminiscence of other times to which 
Ashtaroth so plaintively refers ; and his plea is confirmed by 
the psychological experience which assures us that an entire 
elimination of inherent tendencies, and a substitution, as com- 
plete of others diametrically opposite, is & priori an enormous 
improbability. 

Arundel. For my part, I prefer Milton's Satan, with his 
„ genuine diabolical utterance c Evil, be thou my good.' We 
cannot apply psychological laws derived from introspection 
of our human faculties to possible changes in the minds of 
superhuman spirits. Largeness of capacity implies greatness 
of possible movement or transmutation, and I can readily con- 
ceive how all the noble passions of the great archangel might 
have been perverted by his ambition, just- as wine turns to 
vinegar. Nor indeed are there lacking examples of a similar 
kind of transformation in human nature. Besides, the evil of 
Milton's Satan is a distinct positive entity, the very idea of 
which provokes violent antagonism — that of Pulci's Ashtaroth 
is a mild diluted evil, more suggestive of acquiescence than 
repulsion; and the former seems on that ground more in 
harmony with the strong positive qualities of evil as we know 
it in the world. 

Miss Lkycester. Do you think so, Mr. Arundel ? For my 



General Causes and Leaders. 233 

part all my experience tends in an opposite direction. I never 
yet have found evil with no trace of goodness either in or 
associated with it — without some palliative or redeeming 
trait. Evil, as we know it, seems therefore to be quite of 
the type of Ashtaroth, instead of the unqualified wickedness 
of Milton's Satan, or the combined cunning and malevolence 
of Goethe's Mephistophiles. 

Harbington. Another protest which I think should be 
entered against part of your paper refers to your treatment of 
Machiavelli. I think you have hardly done justice to that 
most eminent thinker, nor to the political theories associated 
with his name. The justification you half grudgingly awarded 
to him on account of the state of Italy appears to me to 
amount to a complete exoneration. No one except a practical 
statesman, and such Machiavelli undoubtedly was, can grapple 
with the imperious necessities of certain political disorders. 
The remedy must oftentimes be severe because of the severity 
of the disease. It is a case of ' kill or cure.' Now, taking 
Sismondi's Republics as a guide to the state of Italy in the 
sixteenth century, it seems difficult to conceive how any 
other remedy than the extreme one prescribed by Machiavelli 
could have met the urgency of the case. A tyranny, strong, 
masterful and unscrupulous was the only conceivable process by 
which order could be introduced into the anarchy and con- 
fusion then rampant in Italy. G-ervinus said of the polity of 
Ancient Borne that it was based on the dictum 'Necessitas 
non habet leges.' The good of the Republic was the single 
aim of her statesmen and generals ; and to this ' Supreme 
Law ' every other consideration was subordinated. Indeed 
many writers of the highest mark have agreed that, in danger- 
ous political conjunctures, recourse may be had to extreme 
measures. Jean Paul e.g. defended the deed of Charlotte 
Corday as an act of ethical retribution. Schiller in his dramas 
repeatedly allows an appeal to crime in the interests of society 
and of freedom, while Goethe says : — 

1 Jeder Weg zu rechtem Zwecke 
1st auch recht auf jeder Strecke.' 1 

1 These words were written some years since, and it is not intended to claim 



234 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Trevor. — I entirely dissent from your line of argument, 
which is nothing less than the apology which all despots and 
tyrants have known how to make for themselves, and their 
measures of coercion and repression. I don't wish to deny that 
there may arise occasionally political conjunctures which, like 
the Gordian knot, admit of no solution except that of the 
sword, but it does not seem to me that the state of Italy in the 
sixteenth century was precisely of this kind, nor do I feel sure 
that the bulk of its people did not enjoy a larger measure of 
political and religious freedom than we, at this distance of time, 
think possible. Machiavelli, with all his pretended love of 
/ liberty, shows most clearly that he distrusts it ; and that his 
sole principle of social order is brute force. This is also 
proved by his unworthy conception of humanity. For with 
men as he supposes them — compounds of weakness and 
wickedness — a pitiless tyranny would doubtless be the most 
effectual rule. Nor can I admit, even as a temporary ex- 
/ pedient, the sacrifice of liberty — freedom of thought and 
v speech — at the shrine of social order. Order doubtless is good, 
but freedom is still better, and for my part I could acquiesce 
even in a certain amount of lawlessness, if it could be shown 
that it was an inevitable result of freedom, rather than I would 
in a tyranny which involved slavery. 

Miss Leycester. In your account of Pomponazzi you 
omitted one thing, Dr. Trevor. You did not give us Bocca- 
lini's amusing satire on him and his doctrine of double 
truth. 

Trevor. The omission was intentional, Miss Leycester : 
I meant to read during our discussion the rendering of the 
passage in the Earl of Monmouth's translation of Advertise* 

for them any novelty in respect of a defence of Machiavellianism in politics. 
They merely indicate the lines on which such a defence has been variously 
placed, from the publication e.g. of Gabriel Naude's Considerations Politique* 
sur lea Coups (TJEUU, 1712, to Lord Acton's Introduction to Mr, Burd's II 
Principe, 1891. The latter concludes with a sentence so applicable to the 
above theory as to deserve quotation. Machiavelli ' is more rationally in- 
telligible when illustrated by lights falling not only from the century he 
wrote in, but from our own, which has seen the course of its history twenty- 
five times diverted by actual or attempted crime.' 



General Causes and Leaders. 235 

merits from Parnassus. 1 Here it is : — c Pietro Pomponatio, a 
Mantuan, appeared next' (before Apollo, who is supposed to 
be engaged in judging the most renowned literary characters 
of all time) * all besmeared with sweat, and very ill accoutred, 
who was found composing a book wherein, by foolish and 
sophistical arguments, he endeavoured to prove that the soul 
of man was mortal. Apollo, not able to look upon so wicked 
a wretch, commanded that his library should be presently 
burnt ; and that he himself should be consumed in the same 
flames: for that fool deserved not the advantage of books 
who laboured thereby only to prove that men were beasts. 
Pomponatio cryed out then with a loud voice, protesting that 
he believed the mortality of the soul only as a philosopher. 
Then said Apollo to the executioners : let him be burnt only 
as a philosopher.' 

Habringtgn. — How curiously all these stories are linked 
together. The anecdote you have read is clearly related to 
the well-known story of the German Prince-Bishop ; who 
being remonstrated with for undue freedom of language, re- 
plied that 4 he swore as a Prince, not as a Bishop ; ' on which 
the question was asked, ' When the Devil took possession of 
the Prince what would become of the Bishop ? ' a story by the 
way which would seem to show that the doctrine of double 
truth, or disparate responsibility, is not limited to philosophy. 
Indeed the convenience of such a principle in ethics is obvious. 
You have something of that sort too among the fanatical 
sectaries of the Commonwealth ; who held that whatever sin 
they committed was due to * the Old Adam,' and formed no 
part of their own regenerate nature. 

Miss Leycester. What an interesting feature of mediaeval 
manners those philosophical jousts must have been. I suppose 
it would be too superficial a mode of accounting for them 
to say that they were suggested by the prevailing taste 
for tournaments — the wish to test intellectual prowess by the 
same means as physical. It seems a pity we have nothing of 
the same kind now in our universities. The contest of a 

1 Advertisements from Parnassus, etc.; translated by the Earl of Monmouth. 
2nd Edition, 1669, p. 158. 



236 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

well-matched pair of Professors representing say, the intui- 
tional and experimental philosophy, or ecclesiasticism and 
rationalism, would be an interesting spectacle. 

Abundel. More interesting than useful I think. The 
qualities needed for success, in a contest of this kind, are 
peculiar and, to my mind, not of the highest merit. A great 
amount of assurance, controversial astuteness, combined with 
readiness and fluency, are the most necessary ; and these are 
not invariably combined with learning, or profound intel- 
lectual power. Besides which, they were generally inefficacious ; 
and the hearers left the arena with precisely the same opinions 
as they entered it. The intellectual gain to European culture 
from the numberless controversies with which the halls of 
mediaeval universities resounded seems to me very doubtful. 
The elder Casaubon summed up that matter years ago, 
when, on being shown the great hall of the Sorbonne, and the 
attendant remarking that it was the place where all the great 
Doctors disputed, he quietly asked — 'Aye, and what have 
they settled ? ' 

Tbevob. I fear the same question might be put to most 
branches and methods of human enquiry. But the mediaeval 
free-trade in teaching, for it almost amounted to that, was not 
so ineffectual as you think. When Abelard emptied his rival's 
lecture room in Paris, and Pomponazzi repeated the exploit in 
Padua, both victorious professors being avowedly champions of 
Free-thought, such a fact speaks well for the docility and true 
instincts of the pupils, as well as for the power of the teachers. 

Miss Letcesteb. I confess I am radical enough to wish for 
a return to the freedom of teaching which existed in those 
days. What can be more humdrum, stereotyped and conven- 
tional than our modern university usages, with their protec- 
tionism and exclusiveness in every department of thought. I 
have been lately reading, with intense enjoyment, Remusat's 
dramatised Abelard. Take the scene depicted in that work 
of the young Breton student's controversy with the renowned 
William of Champeaux. What vigour and animation is there 
displayed. The whole scene is instinct with full, fresh and 
free intellectual life. Even the turbulence of the students is 



General Causes and Leaders. 237 

only the youthful expression of mental excitation. Compare 
such a scene with the dull routine of an English University 
Lecture Room in our own days, and who would not prefer the 
life and freedom of Paris in the thirteenth century to the staid 
and respectable, but hopelessly apathetic, proceedings of e.g. an 
Oxford * Lecture ' of our own day. Moreover, what a reflection 
upon our boasted advance in liberty and civilization, — the re- 
mark I may say does not apply to German Universities, who 
have never given up their prerogative of free-trade in teach- 
ing — that if a modern Abelard or Pomponazzi were to appear 
at one of our great seats of learning, he could not find a room 
in which to deliver his lectures. 

Arundel. Well, he might hire the Town Hall of the Mayor 
for a couple of guineas ! 

Harrington. But the poor wandering lecturer might not 
have so much money, or if he had, and chose to invest it in 
the way you suggest, the authorities would, in the case of a 
Pomponazzi, prohibit the attendance of the undergraduates. 
. . . But I fear your German ideas, Florence, make you 
unjust to our more decorous English customs. Under the anti- 
quated and formal usages of our Universities you would find 
more * liberty of prophesying ' than you are aware of. At 
present there is, I am informed, not a single phase of thought, 
in Church or nation, which has not its exponent, generally an 
able one, in our University chairs. When I was at Oxford, 
twenty-five years ago, there was a much more limited selec- 
tion ; but in those days we supplemented by private enterprise 
the deficiencies of our national seminaries. I was a member 
of a club of advanced thinkers in which we broached and dis- 
cussed many things which were then little thought of, but 
which have since come to the surface of English speculation. 
I am inclined to think that our private debating club, which 
we called the Synagogue, was of real service to me in my pro- 
fession ; and I know fellow-members who have since achieved 
distinction, both at the Bar and in the House of Commons, who 
ascribe the foundation of their debating power to the practice 
of free and full discussion which we thus privately enjoyed in 
our university days. 



238 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Trevor. No doubt such debates are useful for certaiu pur- 
poses ; and so must also have been the dialectical contests in 
the Universities of the middle ages ; but their peculiar merits 
were better adapted, I think, to meet the wants of those days 
than similar exhibitions would be to supply our own. Liberty 
enjoys a wider scope and a greater variety of existence now 
than she did then. With a free printing press, a man who has 
anything worth communicating can, as a rule, labour under no 
difficulty as to the means ; and to my mind the cold unimpas- 
sioned utterances of the press are better adapted to philosophi- 
cal discussion than the warmth of debate and personal alter- 
cation, besides being more dignified and impartial. 

Mrs. Harrington. I want to know what possible interest a 
Paduan or Parisian citizen could have in debates which he 
would hardly understand, carried on as they were in Latin. 
He could not even know, of himself, which of the champions 
came off best. Whereas if he went to a tournament or some 
contest of physical strength he would have ocular demonstra- 
tion of the final result. 

Arundel. There was a considerable circulation of a kind of 
popular student Latinity in all the mediaeval university towns ; 
so that the terms more frequently used in debate were well 
recognised by the average citizen. As to the victorious com- 
batant, perhaps the citizen identified him by the same token 
as the rustic on a similar occasion, who said ' He could see who 
was the first, that put t'other fellow in a passion.' 

Harrington. There are several more points in Pomponazzi 
that suggest discussion. Take e.g. the storm of indignation 
which his book on Immortality raised, and his attempt to meet 
it by the plea of ' twofold truth.' Theologians are never tired 
of telling us that our religious beliefs are based on faith, and 
are not dependent on the reason. Yet the moment a belief is 
professed avowedly independent of all reason, they immedi- 
ately exclaim against it as infidel, blasphemous, or at least 
heterodox. What is this but a tacit acknowledgment that the 
reason must have some part in every sincere conviction which 
a man has ? 

Arundel. In the majority of cases the religious beliefs of 



General Causes and Leaders. 239 

men are founded on the unconditional demand of faith, and 
owe little or nothing to the approval or disapproval of the rea- 
son. The difficulties of theologians commence with the minor- 
ity who bring all convictions indifferently to the bar of its 
judgment. In such cases no doubt they distrust, though rather 
illogically, a conviction ostensibly based upon faith, revela- 
tion, or religious intuition, when it is unaccompanied by the 
approval of the reason ; but I confess the inconsistency which 
must needs include reason as an element of all. well-founded 
conviction seems to me not only justifiable but happy. Hence 
if a friend were to assure me that he believed a doctrine solely 
on the ground of Revelation, though all the facts of the case 
appeared to him to militate against it as a scientific truth, I am 
not sure that as a clergyman I should have any ground for 
remonstrating with his faith as imperfect, though as a philo- 
sopher, I should certainly think that it needed some reasonable 
presumption to give it the validity which every genuine belief 
should possess. 

Harbington. We are getting back into our former discus- 
sion on 'Double Truth.' But you must take care, Arundel. 
If you divide yourself into two personalities, philosophical and 
theological, you will be treading on the heels of Pompo- 
nazzi. . . . By the way, the 4 absolute morality ' of the 
Italian thinker suggested to my mind a speculation with which 
I have often entertained myself as to the future of philosophi- 
cal and ethical thought. Since the time of Kant, antinomies 
and categorical imperatives, or ultimate truths in which con- 
tradictions converge, are continually assuming a larger import- 
ance both in philosophy and theology. 1 We are, I think, ap- 
proaching a time in which the simple affirmative l It is so/ 
or l It must be so ' will be the ne plus ultra of all ratiocina- 
tion, and the basis of all religion and morality. So philosophy 
will end in dogma of the most decisive and unconditional kind; 
and her progress will have been like a stormy ocean dividing 
two solid continents — a philosophical Atlantic, separating, yet 
forming a highway between, an old world of metaphysical 

1 Among more recent illustrations of this tendency may be noted Lotzo in 
Germany ; and Darwin, and H. Spencer, in England. 



240 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

dogma and a new world of positive or scientific dogma — or 
like the human maturity of independent thought, which sepa- 
rates the unreasoned convictions of childhood from the senile 
obstinacy of old age. 

Miss Leycesteb. Why, Charles, your predicted c Future ' 
will be quite a c Ladies' epoch/ Our sex has long since at- 
tained the culmination of philosophy, if that is to consist of an 
immediate intuition or simple determination which disdains 
all reasoning and is impervious to all argument. What a 
forcible justification, by the way, of the anticipation of the 
advocates of woman's rights, that our sex is destined in some 
remote future to occupy its own place as the head of the intel- 
lectual universe. 

Arundel. Moreover there is another still more dire con- 
tingency, if that be possible — when all the religious and philo- 
sophical problems of the universe have been thus reduced to a 
few infallible propositions. What would become of the Skep- 
tics? 

Tbevob. Of course we should start afresh by analysing the 
supposed propositions, and protesting against their claim to 
infallibility. I cannot say, Harrington, that I agree with your 
forecast. The resources of the human intellect appear to me to 
be boundless and therefore inexhaustible. I do not even share 
the opinion of Oomte and others, who think that metaphysics 
have arrived at the end of their tether, and that the Future 
of human enquiry pertains entirely to physical science. 
Physics without the ' Meta f are only conceivable in an uni- 
verse where nothing is unknown; or where human faculties 
are incapable of the faintest degree of imagination or idealiza- 
tion. Either supposition is practically inconceivable. That 
physics will absorb more of human attention in the future 
than its ally is, I think, probable ; nor need we deprecate such 
an event. I however agree with you so far, that I think our 
scientists are daily becoming more dogmatic ; thus reproducing 
the very fault which they usually find most reason to repre- 
hend in metaphysics. 

Habrington. Eeturning to Pomponazzi — I was struck by 
the fact of his sincerity, so affectingly disclosed in the com- 



General Causes and Leaders. 241 

parison of himself and his lot to Prometheus. It would appear 
that there were problems of which he could not accept l Two- 
fold Truth ' as an adequate solution. This sufficed when he 
dealt with the dogmas of the Church ; but when he came to 
antinomies inherent in the constitution of the universe — when 
it was no longer * Philosophy versus Theology/ but 'Philosophy 
versus itself ' — then he found himself foiled and vanquished. 

Arundel. If his end was accelerated in the way Trevor 
suggested, by opposing his finite intellect to the insolubilities 
of the universe, I think I can supply you with a better illus- 
tration of his fate than the comparison of sea waves vainly 
dashing themselves against a rock. I heard a story the other 
day of a Wiltshire farmer of the olden time, when land was 
cheap and corn dear, and agriculture was pursued in the happy- 
go-lucky manner which such circumstances might be expected 
to produce. His name was Dobbs, and he used to live in this 
neighbourhood. When Dobbs grew old he was compelled to 
seek for assistance in his farm work; so he brought home 
from Salisbury fair one day a stalwart ploughman whom, on 
the morrow, he sent into a field to plough. Alas ! before din- 
ner time the new man returned from his work bringing with 
him a broken ploughshare, and told Dobbs he had broken it 
while ploughing into a large dock-root which stood in the 
middle of the field. His master, after eyeing him for a moment 
with supreme contempt, broke out, l Ah, I zee thee'rt only a fule 
after all. Why, I've ploughed round thik old dock every year 
for this vifty year and never broke a sheer in my life. Thee'd 
best go about thy business.' It seems to me that Pomponazzi 
is like the ploughshare, which snapped because it would persist 
in encountering the hard root which lay directly in its path. 

Trevor. But you see it is not every ploughman who has 
learnt, or is able to appreciate, Dobbs' method of ploughing 
round an obstacle. Some intellects must, at whatever cost, 
plough a straight furrow. 

Miss Leycester. Besides which, Mr. Arundel, the dock had 
no business there ; and the ploughshare broke in doing its duty. 

Arundel. In an universe so full of tough problems as ours, 
a field without its ancient and indestructible dock-root might 
be considered an anomaly. 

VOL. I. * * * * ^ 



GIORDANO BRUNO. 



( Veritas, a quocunque dicatur, a Spiritu Sancio est? 

St. Ambrose. 

' Die wenigen, die was davon erkannt 
Die thdricht g'nug ihr voiles Herz nicht tcahrten 
Dem P&bd ihr Gefuhl, ihr Schauen offenbarien 
Hat man vonje gekreuzigt und verbrannt? 

Goethe, Faust. 

' Religious disbelief and philosophical skepticism are not merely not the same, 
but have no natural connection.' 1 

Sir Wm. Hamilton, Appendix to Lectures, i. 394. 

1 Why first, you don't believe, you don't and can't, 
(Not statedly, that is, and fixedly, 
And absolutely and exclusively) 
In any Revelation called Divine. 
No dogmas nail your faith, and what remains ; 
But say so, like the honest man you aref* 

Browning, Works, vol. v. p. 267. 



S44 



CHAPTER IV. 
GIORDANO BRUNO. 

Harrington. We discuss to-night a name of rare interest. 
We may mark it with red letters in our calendar of Free- 
thought, as Giordano Bruno, Apostle and Martyr. 1 

1 The following are the works and authorities cited in this chapter : — 

Jordani Bruni, Opera Latine conscript*, 8 vols., Naples 1879-1891. This is 
the elaborate Edition of his whole works which is now being published at the 
expense of the Italian government. As yet (1892) only the Latin works have 
appeared. 

Jordani Bruni, Nolani Scripta qua Latine conficit, edidit* A. Fr. Gf rarer. 
Stuttgard 1835. 

Opere di Giordano Bruno, da Adolf o Wagner, 2 vols. Lipsia 1830. This 
edition of Bruno's Italian works is now superseded by the critical text of 
P. de Lagarde, Gottingen 1868. 2 vols. 8vo. 

Vila di Giordano Bruno da Nolo, da Domenico Berti, 1868. 

Giordano Bruno o La Religion* del Pensiero, da David Levi. Torino 1887. 

Jordano Bruno, par Christian Bartholmess, 2 vols., 8vo. Par. 1846. 

Giordano Bruno 1 8 Weltanschauung und Verh&ngniss, etc., von Dr. H. Brunn- 
hofer. 1882. 

Gli eretici d Italia, Discorsi da Csesare Cantu, 8 vols. Torino 1868. 

Die philosophische Weltanschauung, von M. Carriere. 1847, pp. 865-494. 

Leben und Lehrmeinungen beruhmter Physiker, von Bixner und Siber. Heft 
v. 1824. 

Life of Giordano Bruno, by I. Frith, London. Trubner, 1887. 

Copernico e vicende del Sistema Copernicano in Italia. Berti, 1876. 

B. Teltsio ossia studi storici su V Idea delta Natura net resorgimento Italiano, 
di Francesco Florentine Vol. ii. pp. 41-111. 

Giordano Bruno und Nicolaus von Cusa, von Dr. F. J. Clemens. 1847. 

Saggi di Critica, di Bertando Spaventa. Vol. i. 139-256. 

Giordano Bruno la vita e V uomo, di B. Mariano. Roma 1881. 

Libri, G., Uittoire dee Sciences Mathematiques en Italie. Vol. iv. 

Die LebensgescJiichte Giordano Bruno's, von Dr. C. Sigwart. 1880. 

Tiraboschi, Storia di Letteratura Italian*, vii. pt. 2, p. 689, etc. 

Storia delta Letteratura Italiana net Secolo XVI, di U. A. Cane 11 o. 1880. 

Ginguene, Histoire LitUraire d* Italie. Vol. vii. chap. xxxi. 

Settembrini, Lezioni di Letteratura Italiana. ii. p. 400. 

Bruno's chief Lullian Treatises are quoted from Lulli opera. Argentorati 
1651. 

Grundlinien einer Ethik bei Giordano Bruno, von £. B. Hartung. 1878. 

215 



r 



246 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Arundel. Yes, when we want to start a new Secular Calen- 
dar of Saints and Martyrs after the model of Auguste Comte's. 

Miss Leycester. I object altogether to the distinction 
between secular and sacred as a~ % definition of martyrdom. 
Every genuine martyrdom — the sacrifice of life for truth — 
is sacred. Sokrates and Giordano Bruno are, in my estima- 
tion, just as sacred as any martyr in the Christian calendar. 

Abundel. • But surely the kind of truth for which the 
martyr suffers must enter as a prime consideration into the 
meritoriousness of the. act. The distinction must be enormous 
between a death endured for the noblest and highest truth, 
and for some trivial distinction or petty belief — it may even 
be a falsehood — or an emanation of the grossest ignorance or 
superstition. 

Miss Leycester. From the sufferer's own point of view 
there can be no such distinction ; and it is that, I apprehend, 
which determines the fact of his martyrdom. What you con- 
sider a petty belief, he evidently regards as a matter of the 
greatest moment. He attests his conviction in the most solemn 
and authentic manner by sealing it with his death. 

Arundel. Your apprehension, Miss Leycester, is, I conceive, 
a misapprehension. Take the derivation of the word martyr. 
It means simply a witness, i.e. an attestator of some truth: 
the stress being evidently placed upon the truth so attested. 
For truth, in the sense of a verity which is eternal, must 
always be of greater importance than the witness who pleads 
it as his own personal conviction. It is the holiness or truth 
of the cause that elevates what might otherwise be merely an 
act of fanaticism and perversity, to the sublime category of 
self-sacrifice and martyrdom. There are people in this country, 
for instance, who still persist in believing that the earth is 
flat, or who are fully persuaded of the supernatural power 
of witches. Suppose them ready to suffer death for their 

The last named brochure is one of the many monographs on detached 
portions of Bruno's works and teaching which have appeared in Germany, 
as well as in France and Italy, during the last half century. It would be 
obviously impossible to enumerate here even their titles. 

Of Bruno's works there is a fair Bibliography appended to Miss Frith's 
Life, pp. 810-877. Also a list of Bruno authorities. 



Giordano Bruno. 247 

beliefs, we could scarcely dignify them with the name of 
martyrs. 

Miss Leycester. I am not so sure of that. Suppose e.g. 
they desired to test liberty of thought and speculation, they 
would then be martyrs of Free-thought. No one has a right 
to interdict beliefs, however absurd, if they are conscientiously 
held and do no harm to the rest of the community. I am by 
no means a believer in Spiritualism ; but if I were, and in con- 
sequence were compelled to endure social penalties, I should 
consider myself a confessor. 

Harrington. But a confessor for what? for Spiritualism, 
or for freedom of speculation ? In your reply to Arundel you 
adroitly contrived to confuse the main motive of the martyr- 
dom with incidental considerations not immediately pertaining 
to it. If a man is benighted enough to be ready to suffer for 
the sake of witchcraft, we cannot easily credit him with the 
enlightenment which could alone make Free-thought a pre- 
ponderating motive for self-denial. But all the special plead- 
ing in the world cannot make the real cause for which a man 
suffers anything else but a matter of profound importance. 
We cannot for a moment dispute the immense disparity, as to 
the moral value of the act, between a man who dies fighting 
in a drunken brawl, and the patriot who falls in defending his 
country. The test is the worth of the deed — its ethical or 
other value to humanity — not the persuasion of the doer. The 
Hindoo widow when she mounts the pyre and sacrifices her 
life to her deceased husband, and Giordano Bruno when he 
goes manfully to the stake, are both animated by a principle 
of duty ; though, judged ab extra, and by high social and moral \ 
standards, one is an act of debasing superstition, the other of ) 
noble heroism. As to the relative merits of martyrs of reli-/ 
gion and those of Free-thought, they may, I think, be allocated 
in this way. All conscientious sufferers for what they be- 
lieve to be truth, leaving out fools and fanatics, are in reality 
e.g. Christian martyrs. Those who take part in producing theifN 
sufferings, no matter what their creed, are veritable Anti-/ 
christs. Thus Pope Clement VIII., with a few more of his 
Pontifical brethren, and Philip II., may be coupled with Nero 



248 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

and Domitian; while those holy butchers Torquemada and 
Sanseverina have their true prototypes in the executioners of 
the early Christians — perhaps in the starved and raging beasts 
which devoured them in the Roman amphitheatre. 

Miss Leycestee. Romanism, if it were honest, ought to 
have two calendars of Confessors and Martyrs — a Creditor and 
a Debtor calendar — martyrs who suffered for Romanism, or 
for the spurious Christianity of which it is the development, 
and martyrs by Romanism. Perhaps it would not be prudent 
to ask which would be the longer ; and a close comparison of 
the two might be invidious ; but a list comprising such men as 
Paleario, Carnesecchi, Bruno, Galileo, Vico, Valdes, Campanella, 
Vanini, would require some strong names to match them. 

Arundel. Cordially as we all detest religious tyranny and 
intolerance, we must, I think, confess there are precedents for 
it in nature. I was reading, the other day, of certain savages 
who, when a member of the tribe falls sick, gather about him 
and beat out his brains with their clubs. * Behold,' I said to 
myself, * a parallel to the fate of Bruno and Vanini.' Physical 
infirmities in the one case, and what are assumed to be mental 
diseases in the other, are both thought worthy of death, 
though it must be admitted the diagnosis of the latter is 
neither so easy nor certain as that of the former. 

Trevor. A complimentary comparison, Arundel. The 
savages of the Fiji Islands (let us say) paralleled with supreme 
Pontiffs, Ecclesiastical Councils, and the Holy Office. But you 
might have penetrated still lower strata of the animal kingdom 
for precedents of that kind. Herds of wild animals will gather 
round a sick member and gore and trample it to death ; while 
bees will destroy every individual of a whole brood when born 
with an imperfect organization. It is merely the operation 
of the sublime law — the survival of the fittest — effected in this 
instance by means of their own exertions in murdering the 
unfit. An application of this principle of survivals to dog- 
matic development would be interesting both as regards indi- 
viduals and beliefs. Thus Arius must succumb while Athana- 
sius triumphs. Nestorius must suffer while Cyril remains 
dominant. Savonarola is burnt while Borgia survives as 



Giordano Bruno. 249 

Pope. Bruno is martyred while Mocenigo and Sanseverina 
remain flourishing. Or, applying the principle to dogmas — 
the Copernican system is suppressed, that the historical truth 
of the 1st chapter of Genesis may be saved. The numberless 
worlds of Bruno are tabooed, in order that the veracious doc- 
trines of purgatory, transubstantiation, the perpetual Vir- 
ginity of Mary may flourish in their stead. 

Miss Leycester. Well, we must not forget that doctrines 
or mental survivals, have the whole future in which to 
develop. With the leading thinkers of our own day the 
starry world of Bruno, e.g., is a much more indisputable 
truth than transubstantiation. In order to justify our appli- 
cation of the law of * the survival of the fittest ' to dogmas,* 
we ought to know what the * survivals ' of 600 years hence are 
destined to be. 

Harrington. What is remarkable in Bruno's countless worlds 
is the rapidity with which he evolved them from the newer 
astronomy. He made the Copernican system the Pegasus of j 
transcendental idealism. Never was there a more abrupt 
transition from physics to metaphysics. The fact of the 
earth being a planet, and the existence of innumerable suns " 
and planetary systems, was the Jacob's ladder by which he 
scaled, or tried to scale, infinity. Hence Bruno is the father of 
all modern idealists and pantheists ; beginning with Spinoza 
and ending with the latest development of Hegelianism. 

Arundel. I confess it taxes my patience to observe how 
readily and ungratefully such idealists as a rule ignore the 
ordinary means and aids by which they have achieved their 
exalted position. They remind me of those unhappy wretches 
who having induced by opium smoking a condition of rapture, 
are inclined to regard their temporary exhilaration as if it 
were their normal state of existence, and ignore the material 
means of drug and pipe by which it was in reality produced ; 
or men who, by the help of ladders, having scaled some lofty 
tower, immediately proceed to thrust down their means of 
ascent, and rejoicing in their elevation, regard it as their 
natural destiny, and proceed to affirm the non-existence of all 
ladders. The question to ask in such a case is : either ladders 



256 The Skeptics of tfie Italian Renaissance. 

exist, or how came you there ? To the idealist the objection 
is fatal : your abstraction has been gained by means of concretes. 
The lowest rung of your metaphysical ladder is placed on 
Terra Firma. By no other means could you have attained 
your sublime and ethereal position. 

Trevor. Not so fatal as you suppose. The idealist might 
say, what Plato and many of his disciples did say, that his 
sublime creations as you would call them, were not in reality 
originated by themselves; but on the contrary were inborn 
or intuitive, all that their senses did being merely to call their 
attention to the fact. They might therefore plead that they 
knew nothing of concretes or of Terra Firma as starting points 
or conditions of knowledge. The inspired vision of the mystic 
is to him a much more infallible basis of conviction than his 
physical senses can be to the natural philosopher. 

Miss Leycester. I think you are really too hard on 
Idealists, Mr. Arundel. For my part I quite sympathize with 
Bruno and his abstractions; so far at least as I understand 
them. His * Infinite ' and ' One ' I regard as a kind of intel- 
lectual crucible, or witches' cauldron, into which he threw all 
divisions, contradictions, mutations in time and space, what- 
ever, in short, conflicted with his philosophical sense of all- 
completeness and inclusiveness ; and in which, by the magic 
power of the fancy, they were transmuted and etherealized 
into the purest and most rarefied of all conceivable abstractions. 
'In his case as in others, idealism is the imagination of 
philosophy, and it seems to me both arbitrary and unjust to 
exclude l lovers of wisdom ' any more than poets and painters 
from weaving the web of a brightly coloured fancy. I can 
imagine philosophers getting just as tired of the poverty, 
monotony and slavish restrictions imposed on them by their 
senses, by the inevitable conditions of terrestrial existence, or 
by ordinary human opinion, as poets are supposed to be by 
thei* humble and prosaic surroundings. Why should not the 
philosopher in the words of Keats — 

*. . . Let the winged Fancy wander 
Though the thought still spread beyond her.' 

Trevor (with enthusiasm). Well said, Miss Leycester. 



Giordano Bruno. 251 

4 Oh, sweet Fancy, let her loose, 
Phenomena are spoilt by use. 
Where's the sense that doth not fade, 
Too much questioned ? Where's the . . .* 

(pauses suddenly.) 

Harrington (laughing). Go on, Doctor. You are leaving 
your adaptation at its most interesting point. I am anxious 
to hear what philosophical turn you can give to Keats' next 
enquiry. 

Trevor. The trochaics of Keats do not easily accommodate 
themselves to philosophy. Poetry, as you know, came into 
the field of language before philosophy, and appropriated all 
the simple and easy terms to her own use, leaving to her 
learned successor nothing but the dry stubble of the harvest. 

Arundel. True, Doctor ; but please to remember that phi- 
losophy has made amends for her tardiness by taking measures 
to secure a private linguistic harvest of her own; though, 
judging by the crop, I should not augur favourably of the 
seed. 

Mrs. Harrington. This comes of discussing a poet-philoso- 
pher like Bruno. You are all in danger of being carried away 
on the wings of imagination and similitude. In order to 
bring you down once more to the Terra Firma } which Mr. 
Arundel says is the starting-point of all idealism, allow me to 
ask what are the best authorities for Bruno's life. Charles 
gave Florence and myself a French work by M. Bartholmiss 
to get up the subject ; telling us that it was good for the man 
and his character, but valueless for the events and dates of 
his life. 

Trevor. I would not go so far as to say that Bartholm&ss 
is valueless for the events of Bruno's life ; though no doubt his 
dates are incorrect. The main incidents of Bruno's life have 
long been the common property of all his biographers who 
have studied his extant works, in which they aro occasionally 
mentioned. Bartholm&ss's merit is to have done this with a 
fulness and exactitude which have been excelled by no writer 
on the subject. His work has also other claims on every 
student of Bruno. He writes in a tender sympathetic manner 



252 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance, 

of the poor martyr-philosopher, and yet does not allow com- 
miseration for his fate to warp his critical estimate of his 
teachings. He also possesses an enormous command of the 
literature — German, Italian, Spanish and English, as well as 
his native French — needed to elucidate the subject. That, in 
point of chronological correctness his work is inferior to that 
of Professor Berti, is not his own fault. The latter was 
fortunate enough to discover a quantity of documents, origi- 
nally belonging to the Archives of Venice, and which contain 
the various interrogatories to which Bruno was subjected 
before he was delivered by the authorities at Venice to the 
Inquisition at Rome. The most important discovery revealed 
by these precious records is the duration of Bruno's imprison- 
ment, which all his biographers had previously thought lasted 
for about two years, but which were really protracted for a 
period of eight years. If we could only obtain access to all 
the records of the Holy Office at Rome, we should probably 
find other important documents, as well as several of Bruno's 
lost works. But that is " a find " which I fear the history of 
modern philosophy is not destined to realize for some time. 
The Inquisition, like every vulgar murderer, is fully alive to 
the expediency of destroying or suppressing so far as possible, 
all records or mementoes by which its nefarious deeds might 
be brought to fuller light. To the discovery of the Venetian 
papers we must ascribe the suggestion of Professor Berti's 
work ; for he himself tells us that he would never have under- 
taken a task so well performed by Bartholmess, had it not 
been for the large fund of fresh information, including what 
might be called an autobiography of Bruno, which those docu- 
ments disclosed. Perhaps I ought, in enumerating original 
authorities, to add the name of Schioppius. This man was a 
pervert from Protestantism; and like all perverts, a zealous 
enthusiast on behalf of his adopted faith. His testimony is 
of some importance in the case of Bruno ; for he was an eye- 
witness of his death. On the evening of the 17th of February, 
1600, and not many hours after Bruno's ashes had been 
scattered to the winds, Schioppius wrote a full account of the 
event to Conrad Rittershausen, a German friend. The letter 



Giordano Bruno. 253 

is valuable for several reasons, as we shall find when we come 
to the last melancholy page of Bruno's life. 

Miss Leycester. Melancholy, in one sense no doubt; but 
gloriously triumphant in another. Bruno, like Campanella 
and Yanini, seems to have foreseen the stake and the faggot 
as the probable, and even fitting, consummation of a life-long 
struggle against dogmatic intolerance and oppression. What 
to outsiders might well have appeared a lurid and terrible 
flame of punishment, those heroic spirits regarded but as the 
candle which lit them to bed. They manifest not only a 
contempt for torture, but even a kind of greediness of it such 
as we read of in early Christian martyrology. In the enthu- 
siasm of liberty they are like people intoxicated with an over- 
mastering passion, entirely insensible to bodily pain. I wonder, 
by the way, if this stern, earnestly thoughtful, intellectual 
face, prefixed to Bartholmfess's Life and Wagner's Works, was 
really Bruno's: if so, one might easily comprehend his life, 
if not, in the sixteenth century, predict his death. 

Tbevoe. I am sorry to say that the traditional portrait (of 
which you may see three different impressions in these books 
on the table) is not well authenticated. Professor Berti dis- 
trusts it, though all his researches have hitherto failed in 
discovering a more genuine likeness. He gives this description 
of Bruno : * short in stature, agile in frame, of meagre body, 
a thin and pallid face, thoughtful expression ; a glance both 
piercing and melancholy ; hair and beard between black and 
chestnut ; a ready, rapid, imaginative tongue, accompanied by 
vivacious gestures, a manner courteous and gentle. Sociable, 
amiable and pleasant in conversation, like the Italians of the 
south; adapting himself without difficulty to the tastes, 
usages and habits of another; open and candid, both with 
friends and foes, and as far from rancour, and revenge, as he 
was quickly moved to anger.' * The Professor adds in a note 
that this description does not fully harmonize with the tradi- 
tional portrait. I am inclined to differ from him on this point. 
Allowing a few years further thought and development to 

1 Berti, Vita di Giordano Bruno, p. 296. 



254 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

have passed over his head, deepening somewhat the lines in 
his face (for the portrait is evidently that of a young man), 
and adding the dark- brown beard of his later years, w& 
shall have a very adequate representation of the lineaments 
and character Professor Berti has given us. 

Harrington. But on what authority does this traditional 
portrait rest ? 

Trevor. So far as I have been able to trace it, I find it 
first in Rixner and Siber's volume on Giordano Bruno, which 
forms part of their interesting collection: Leben und Lehr- 
meinungen beriihmter PhysUcer am Ende des XVI. und am 
Anfange des XVII. Jahrhunderts. This was published in 
1824, and the authors tell us that they took the portrait from 
the * interesting collection of Herr Wirthmann in Munich.' l 
The form of the likeness was small 8vo, and the name of the 
engraver was erased. They add that it probably was once a 
title plate to one of Bruno's works. We shall find that Bruno 
enjoyed considerable celebrity for some years both in Paris 
and London, which would make his portrait a matter of public 
interest. Some day, perhaps, the original engraving and date 
may be discovered. 

Mrs. Harrington. I have been trying to make out what 
dress Bruno is represented in, but have quite failed. 

Trevor. That is the white cowl or hood of the Dominican 
order, a garment like the domino still worn in masquerades. 
At that time it was common both to laymen and clerics, 
whence the proverb * the hood does not make the monk.' * 

Miss Leycester. The more I gaze upon his noble but 
somewhat sad and stern face, 3 the more reason do I find for 
regarding it as an authentic likeness of Bruno. At least I 
should never give up this portrait, which I have long admired, 

1 Rixner und Siber, Heft. v. p. iv. 

* Comp. Rixner und Siber, loc. cit., p. iv. 

8 Mr. Maurice, in his Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy (Modern Part, 
p. 165), ascribes to his physical beauty some of the enormous influence which 
Bruno wielded. ( Grace and beauty of every kind speak to his soul, and exer- 
cise a dominion over him which one would fear must have often been too much 
for his judgment, and his loftier aspirations. His countenance testifies how 
mightily he must have been attracted, and how many he must have attracted. 1 



Giordano Bruno. 255 

for any other even though better authenticated, if the latter 
did not convey with equal distinctness my ideal of the man. 
Among my many notions which Charles there is pleased to 
call paradoxical, I entertain a strong feeling that the highest 
kind of portraiture is that which gives the man's mind, his 
intellect, his spiritual character ; unless the facial lineaments 
clearly and fully indicate this, I think their precise configu- 
ration a matter of secondary importance. A portrait should 
be a likeness of a man's soul, not merely of his body, as 
Napoleon once remarked to the painter David, * No one cares 
whether the likeness of a great man resembles him or not, if 
only his spirit lives in it.' Hence all portrait-painters ought 
to have the fullest and most intimate acquaintance with their 
subject's mental characteristics, as well as the art of transferr- 
ing mind to canvass or paper. Of course every genuine artist \, 
should be both a philosopher and an idealist. ... I do / 
not know a more painful disappointment than that which one 
feels when, after ideally constructing a likeness of some one 
of the world's greatest minds, we are shown as its authentic 
physical counterpart an ordinary expressionless face which 
perhaps does not suggest a single one of the attributes with 
which we have mentally invested it. I have never yet seen 
a single portrait of Shakespeare which at all conveys my 
notion of him. 

Arundel. But suppose, Miss Leycester, that the subject of 
the portrait has no superior mental characteristics to boast 
of; you would not, I presume, interdict the representation of 
homely features conjoined to qualities which, though just as 
ordinary, may to acquaintances and intimate associates be of 
sterling worth? Moreover Nature, in the manifold products 
of her laboratory, displays a capricious disregard of idealist 
notions and wishes. How often e.g. do the features of a man 
of genius suggest rather a commonplace character ; and on the 
other hand striking features are sometimes found allied with 
an ordinary or even inferior type of character. I know a 
remarkable instance in a clergyman of high social, but inferior 
intellectual status, who possesses all the external attributes of 
genius, but apparently none of its real properties. As a 



256 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

mutual friend says of him, he always looks as if he were on 
the point of saying or doing something wonderful, but — it 
never comes. 

Miss Leycesteb. Of course if a man has no great or strik- 
ing mental characteristics, and possesses no public but merely 
domestic virtues, he has no business to have his portrait 
published to the world. The world has no more concern with 
his face than it has with the quality of his clothes or the price 
of the tea he drinks. As to the statement that intellectual 
features are often found in combination with a commonplace 
character, I am not at all inclined to admit it. Men of real 
mental power cannot help betraying the fact in their physi- 
ogonomy. Such at least is my experience, judging from living 
men. 

Harrington. To an idealist nothing is impossible. Take 
this portrait of Bruno for instance. The chief characteristics 
it suggests to me are audacity and determination. It is a 
vivid impersonation of the quality indicated by his favourite 
maxim — 

' Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito.' 

A If his features were not so refined I could imagine him a 
V leader of Communists or Socialists. The face is that of a man 
at war with the convictions, laws, or social usages of the 
world. Hence your ideal portrait-painting, Florence, must 
needs be an art confined to yourself; no one can possibly share 
in it. Your picture-gallery of the great minds of the world is 
solely and absolutely yours; and as such it is beyond both 
discussion and criticism. You conceive the lineaments; you 
define, if definition can be used of such a process, the expres- 
sions ; you shape, contour, and no doubt modify them after your 
fancy ; you make the finished product — when it is finished, 
for idealists who do not stereotype their creations on canvas 
or paper are perpetually remoulding, and recolouring their 
productions — the representation of what you conceive to be 
striking qualities. But such a portrait, if made perceptible to 
others, might be far from resembling not only the particular 
individual it purported to depict, but every other man that 
ever lived. The reductio ad absurdum of your art would be 



Giordano Bruno. 257 

achieved when you joined together a number of attributes and 
requested a painter to embody them in an ideal impersonation. 
Take Shakespeare, for instance, whose likeness you say you 
have never yet seen. You might give your enumeration of 
the qualities which you think compose his myriad-mindedness, 
to some great painter, and say, Paint me a vivid and life-like 
embodiment of all these varied attributes. 

Miss Leyoester. A proceeding of which I should take care 
not to be guilty, even if I could find a competent artist who 
would be willing to engage in such a task. I should fear the 
almost inevitable discrepancy between his creation and my 
own. As to such a commission being a reductio ad abmrdum 
of idealism, my conceptions are formed in precisely the same 
way as all ideas are engendered, viz. by the plastic power of 
intellect or imagination. Every mind worthy of the name is 
an ideal picture gallery, the slow and sometimes expensive 
accumulation of much time and labour, possibly containing 
like all such collections, some few good pictures, together with 
a large proportion of rubbish; but all so far valuable and 
unique that they bear the indelible impress of one's own 
individuality. The main difference between myself and other 
people is that they are ready to exchange at a moment's notice 
their idealizations, no matter how carefully constructed, for 
any realization submitted to them with soqae pretext of 
authority. Tell them, e.g. this is an undoubtedly authentic 
likeness of Shakspeare, or Bruno, or Augustine, or any other 
of the world's worthies, and they immediately hasten to remove 
their own mental creation, perhaps the most valuable in their 
whole gallery, in order to make room for the new comer. 
Now this sacrifice of mind to matter, of faith to sight, I am 
only willing to make when the visible picture is, as is this 
traditional Bruno-likeness, the best conceivable rendering of 
my conception of the man's spiritual qualities. An ideal 
truth, or what appears such to you, is greatly preferable to 
an actuality which you are not only unable to approve, but 
which is directly opposed to your most cherished convictions. 
My experience has long taught me that artistic realism fre- 
quently serves the confiding idealist the trick of ( old lamps for 

vol. 1. s 



258 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

new. For myself I know the wonderful virtues of the * old 
lamp/ and I decline to make the exchange. 

Mrs. Harrington. We are, I think, wandering somewhat 
rom Bruno. Among other qualities, his portrait suggests to 
me the idea of a man fated to die a martyr's death, as Lavater 
is said to have remarked of Vandyke's likeness of Charles* I. 
After all, the crown and halo of martyrdom are not the un- 
meaning insignia which some people suppose. Who would 
not rather have been Bruno, even with that hour of excruciat- 
ing agony, than his judges and executioners, destined to the 
eternal execration of all tolerant and Christ- like minds. 

Harrington. Natural as may be our feelings of anger and 
disgust at such inhuman and intolerant proceedings as the 
martyrdom of Bruno, they ought not, I think, to be totally 
devoid of pity for the poor misguided wretches who could so 
far misinterpret the spirit and life of Christianity. To expend 
unconditional, or perpetual, hatred on deeds motived by pro- 
found ignorance, and a perverted conception of duty, seems to 
me unjust. A court of the Inquisition, sentencing a heretic to 
torture and death, I place in the same category with a secular 
court of the same period gravely deliberating on the character- 
istics of witchcraft, and committing perhaps some tender and 
delicate woman, like La Esmeralda of Victor Hugo's Notre 
Dame de Paris, to the rack, and the stake or gibbet. I at least 
strive, though not always successfully, to share the mournful 
calm with which a similar mockery of justice and humanity 
is contemplated by Christ. l The days will come when whoso- 
ever killeth you will think that he doeth God service, but 
these things will they do unto you because they have not 
known the Father nor Me.' 

Trevor then began his paper : — 

****** 

/ In the century that elapsed between Pomponazzi and Bruno, momen- 
tous changes were taking place in the mental history of Italy.. Partly 
these were continuations of the intellectual movements we have ex- 
amined on former occasions, partly the result of fresh motive forces. 
As to the first, the general progress of the Renaissance, which we saw 
in full flow during the former epoch, may be said to have reached, for 
the time, its greatest height ; and in Italy to betray some symptoms of 



Giordano Bruno. 259 

retreating. But in other countries — France, Germany, England— the 
tidal wave is still acquiring greater volume and momentum, besides 
imparting a reciprocal reflex agitation to the impulse which first put 
it in motion ; just as the wave circlets, when a stone is thrown into a 
pond, reach the shore, and then run back to their primal centre of 
motion. The opposition to Aristotle and scholasticism, of which we 
have seen traces in Ockam, Petrarca and Pomponazzi, continues to be 
asserted by the free spirits of France and Italy as an essential pre- 
requisite^ of philosophic freedom. The German Reformation, though 
its leaders are now disappearing from the scene, is still further extend- 
ing its influence. It is the fortune of Bruno to come in successive 
contact with the three chief types of sixteenth-century Protestant- 
ism. 1 As Englishmen, we have no cause for self-congratulation 
in his experience that Wittenberg was more favourable than Oxford 
to freedom of thought ; and, as Protestants, we may admit that 
its various systems, and the characters it sometimes evolved, gave 
too much room for Bruno's nicknaming Reformers, Deformers. 
One effect of this increasing development of Free-thought, both 
religious and secular, was to add a new source of suspicion and 
terror to the hierarchy of the Romish Church. Proscription and per- 
secution took the place of the half contemptuous, half sympathetic 
toleration of Free-thought, which marked the leaders of the Church in 
the preceding century. The enthusiasm with which classical Re- 
vivalism was first received by liberal and enlightened Romanists, died 
away, as its effects on the creed and polity of the Church began to be 
more fully developed and appreciated. The formation of the Jesuits 
and other religious bodies, designed to counteract the floods of heresy 
and Free-thought which were spreading over Europe, and to institute 
a new and more vigorous propaganda than Romanism had ever yet 
attempted, was a proof that a reaction against liberal culture had set 
in and added a new element of danger to Free-thinkers. Our subject 
presents us with one victim of this ecclesiastical alarm and intoler- 
ance ; and we shall shortly have another before us, in Vanini. 

The growth of the sympathy with and affection for Nature, the 
commencement of which we have already noticed, is another prominent 
feature of the period we are about to consider. This is only another 
mode of affirming the continued development of the Naturalism we 
have already noticed; and which was partly the cause, partly the 
effect, of the decline of ecclesiastical influence which constituted the 
chief feature of the Italian Renaissance. But in the fifteenth century 
this Naturalism assumes a broader and more multiform character. 

1 I.e. Calvinism at Geneva, Lutheranism at Wittenberg, and Anglicanism 
at Oxford and London, 



I 



260 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Nature is not now regarded, as it was by Petrarca and succeeding 
poets, from a merely aesthetic point of view as an object of wonder and 
admiration — a fitting subject for picturesque word-painting and tender, 
graceful poetry ; nor only as by Boccaccio and other Free-thinkers, as 
a standard for human conduct — a plea for genuine liberty to be sub* 
stituted for the depraved morals and excessive licence of the Church ; 
nor again was it contemplated only from a theological point of view, 
whether as represented by the pantheism of Nicolas of Cusa and 
others, or by the natural theology of Raymund of Sabien<Je, or by 
the theosophy and magic of such men as Telesius and Cardan, 
Thinkers were now coming to regard Nature not as a divinity, to be 
distantly contemplated and reverently worshipped, but as an object 
of investigation and research — not as a verbal abstraction, but as an 
assemblage of numerous allied concretes, each inviting, to a certain 
extent, experiment and analysis. In other words, Nature hitherto 
conjoined with poetry, theology, theosophy and magic, is now becoming 
allied with experimental science. It is this alliance, recognised 
almost simultaneously by leading thinkers in France, Germany and 
England, as well as in Italy, that I have termed the newer motive 
force by which Bruno was stirred. 1 The earliest experimental 
science in Italy was the legitimate new birth of the bastard science 
Astrology. Our subject was among the first who comprehended the 
enormous import, not only for science, but for theology, of the Coperni- 
can system. It is not too much to say that it completely inverted 
the relative positions hitherto maintained of earth and heaven. All 
former systems had declared the earth to be the centre of the universe, 
not only in astronomy, but in philosophy and theology as well. Now 
the earth was reduced to a secondary and tributary position. The 
degradation could hardly have been pleasing to those who had arro- 
gated to themselves excessive earthly dominion; and who had affirmed 
the supposed centre of the universe to contain central and universal 
beliefs for every portion of its unbounded circumference. The states- 
men and functionaries of a power suddenly reduced from absolute 
supremacy to subjection, must of course share the degradation of 
their state ; and the fates of Bruno, Galileo and Campanella, not to 
mention numerous predecessors and successors, attest the fearful 
vengeance which such officials would be prepared to exact from the 
authors of a change so ruinous to themselves. 

Such was the intellectual environment into which Giordano Bruno 
was born. We shall find that his imagination, and many-sided intel- 
lectual sympathies reflect every phase of the great mental movements 
of his time ; excepting the superstitious reverence for antiquity which 

1 Cf. Libri, Hisioirt dee Sciences Mathematiquet in Mali*, vol. iv. p. 28, etc 



Giordano Bruno. 261 

still characterized some Italian humanists. The pantheistic teach- 
ings of Avicenna and Cardinal de Cusa — the skeptical teaching of 
the latter, and generally of all the leading spirits of the Italian 
Renaissance — the hostility to Aristotelianism and scholasticism of 
Petrarca — the varied study of Nature initiated by different schools of 
prior speculation — the mystical superstition of Raymund Lulli — all 
find a place and an eager response in the large intellect and fervid 
imagination of Bruno. Hence few thinkers can be named whose 
works and speculations cover so large a chronological area. On 
the one hand, his thoughts stretch themselves into the darkness of 
the middle ages ; on the other hand, they embrace some of the latest 
phases of German transcendentalism. No other fifteenth-century 
thinker has sown a harvest which is not all housed even in our day ; 
and the abundant gleanings of which will no doubt occupy kindred 
spirits for centuries to come. 

Bruno was born at Nola in 1548 or 1550; of noble lineage, say both 
Bartholmess and Berti ; of poor parents, rejoin other biographers. 1 
The former is, I think, the more probable, though the matter is 
of no great consequence; and it is not the only point in Bruno's 
life which we must leave in uncertainty. The house in which he 
was brought up was situate at the foot of Mount Cicala, 9 noted for its 
wine, its fertility and genial climate. There he was probably also 
born; but that we have no means of ascertaining. His father's name 
was Giovanni, and his profession a soldier ; his mother's name was 
Fraulissa Savolina. His own baptismal name was Filippo, which he 
changed into Giordano when he assumed a religious habit. 3 The 
natural environment of the young child curiously corresponds with 
his disposition and his destiny in after life. Bartholmess indeed ap- 
plies the maxim of Tasso, — 

' La Terra . . . 
Simili a se gli abitator, produce,' 

to all the inhabitants of the district round Nola and Naples. ( The 
soil of Nola,' he says, ' is volcanic, as is its atmosphere, its water, 
its black and thick wine, which has the significant name of Mangia 
guerra ' (the Fire-eater). 4 However true this may be of the general 
population of Naples, it certainly is true of more than one eminent 
name connected with the district. In different degrees it is true of 
Vanini, Valdez, Telesius, Campanella and Ochino, but truest of all of 
Giordano Bruno. 5 His excitable disposition, fervid imagination, un- 

1 Berti, p. 86, note 2. • Op. Ital., ii. p. 152; Berti, Vila, p. 87. 

* Berti, Vita, p. 85. < Bartholmess, i. p. 26. 

5 Cf. Berti, Vila, p. 41, who says that in Nola, of all the oities of Magna 
Gratia, the culture and general refining influences of the Greek-Latin oiviliza- 



262 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

tiring restlessness, may well be called volcanic ; while his works, 
poured forth under the influence of intense feeling, and carrying de- 
struction to much of the assumed learning, and settled convictions of 
the time, may be likened to so many streams of lava. 

Of his youth we know scarce anything reliable ; nothing more, in 
fact, than the occasional retrospect which he furnishes in later works, 
especially in the Venetian documents published by Berti. Two pro- 
minent characteristics marked it. (1) A strong feeling for Nature, 
/and an imaginative interpretation of her facts and processes. (2) A 
I skeptical distrust of his senses ; and probably of some of the beliefs 
\$vhich were sought to be impressed on his youthful intellect. With 
these germs of Free-thought was combined, somewhat later, a dread 
/of, and contempt for, political tyranny and ambition, and an unquench- 
able thirst for freedom — the natural product of the scenes of cruelty 
and oppression which marked the government of Naples in those days. 1 

Where Bruno acquired his early education we are not told. Pro- 
bably in the school of some convent, either in Nola or in the imme- 
diate neighbourhood ; but at the age of ten or eleven years, having 
perhaps exhausted these educational resources, he departed for 
Naples to complete his education in logic and humane letters. 

As the next step in his career, we hear of his entering the convent 
of St. Domenico Maggiore in Naples. 1 The motives which induced 
him to take this step are not easy to ascertain. The only openings 
for ambitious young men in the Naples of the sixteenth century were 
the army, the law, and the Church. Bruno's preference for the last 
may have been dictated by his love of learned leisure and contempla- 
tion. 8 This was no doubt the motive which actuated so many of the 
thinkers of that period to join one or other of the monastic orders. 
Telesius e.g. early retired into a convent of Benedictines ; and Cam- 
panella, his more famous pupil, became a member of the Dominican 

tion were most powerful. What is more remarkable, on the common theory 
which makes Bruno the father of modern Idealism, is that its birthplace was 
so near the native home of Greek Idealism — the far-famed Elea which gave to 
Greek philosophy Xenophanes, Parmenides and Zeno. This local connexion 
with some of the greatest thinkers of antiquity was duly prized by Bruno, who 
frequently dwells with complacency on the similarity of his speculations to 
those of the Eleatics (Comp. Bartholmess, ii. p. 810). See also a work on this 
very subject that has recently appeared, DeW Essere e del Conoacere, studt su 
Parmenide Platone e Rosmini d% Oiuseppi Buroni. Torino 1878. 

1 On the state of Naples in Bruno's youthful days, compare Bartholmess, i. 
p. 27, etc. 

* This is still one of the most remarkable religious houses in Naples. See 
Prof. Berti's description, p. 48. 

* Eraici Furori, op. Ital., Ed. Wagner, ii. p. 813. 



Giordano Bruno. 263 

order. Besides, Bruno's instructors from his earliest years had been 
the monks ; and it is not wonderful if they imbued his young mind 
with a liking for their own profession. Professor Berti supposes that 
the fame and influence of Aquinas in Naples may also have contri- 
buted somewhat to his decision, as it did to the similar resolve of 
Campanella. 1 Not the least remarkable feature in Bruno's conduct, 
so far as we are now able to judge it, is his choice of the Dominican 
order as his own ; for, as Bartholmess reminds us, this order, together 
with the Augustins, was particularly commissioned to use its utmosK 
efforts to extinguish the new lights of Protestantism and Free-thoughty 
The irony of human destiny certainly seems to have presided at the 
admission of the freest thinker of the thirteenth century into the 
ranks of the Obscurants (obscuri viri). Bruno's cloistral existence has 
received important elucidations from the Venetian documents. It 
comprehended altogether a period of thirteen years. The date of his 
full orders as priest is given as 1572. 2 But, previous to his taking this 
final step, Bruno's intellect had begun to display those qualities which 
made him one of the greatest philosophers of the Italian Renaissance ; 
or rather the restlessness, independence of thought and vigorous\ 
imagination, which marked even his childhood, began to assert them-/ 
selves with increasing vigour and persistency. All his biographers 
are agreed, and it is itself transparently obvious, that Bruno was 
utterly unsuited for a monastic life. The first and chief quality of 
the monk is submission; and intellectual submission was a duty which 
Bruno was utterly incapable of understanding, and therefore quite 
incompetent to render. During the thirteen years of his cloister life 
no less than two processes were issued against him for open and 
avowed heresy — for his was not the mutely secretive nature which 
could meditate and doubt in silence. We see therefore that his 
education, though conducted by Dominicans, was by no means a. 
passive and obsequious receptivity. He might have said of his train- 
ing in the words of an English poet, to whom he bears no small 
degree of similarity, I mean Shelley : — 

1 . . . From that hour did I with earnest thought 
Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore, 

1 Campanella, De propriis Libris, Art. I. 

8 Berti, Vita, p. 50, who gives the chronology of Bruno's cloister life as 
follows : — 

1568, Assumes the religious dress. 
1564. Profession. 

1569, Sub-deacon. 

1570, Deacon. 
1572, Priest. 



264 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Yet nothing that my tyrants knew or taught 
I cared to learn, but from that secret store 
Wrought linked armour lor my soul, before 
It might walk forth to war among mankind.' 1 

The dogmas against which Bruno's youthful but precocious intellect 
first stumbled were those of the Trinity, Transubstantiation and the 
Immaculate Conception. These would seem to have come into direct 
conflict with the opinions he had already formed as to the unvarying 
law and order of all natural processes, as well as with the spiritual 
idealistic character of his general mode of thought. Other and 
extraneous causes also conspired to force these subjects on Bruno's 
attention. The kingdom of Naples in the sixteenth century was 
famous for its Anti-trinitarianism. It was the home of Socinus, 
Ochino, Vermigli, and other Protestants of a more or less Free-think- 
ing type. The different modes of interpreting the doctrine formed, 
we are told, a favourite topic of conversation in Neapolitan convents 
and monasteries. In the spacious garden walks and secluded arbours 
of the convent of St. Domenico Maggiore the subject was no doubt 
frequently debated by Bruno and his brother monks. Throughout his 
life he was passionately fond of controversy ; and was accustomed to 
put forth his views freely and without reserve. The persuasion that 
truth must be the outcome of all full and impartial discussion was as 
deeply engrained in his mind as in that of Milton. 2 The freedom of 
his Trinitarian speculations, and what to the hyper-sensitive ears of 
his brethren sounded like an indirect defence of Arianism, subjected 
him to the charge of heresy. Whatever may have been Bruno's exact 
views on the subject at this early period of his life, both his own 
confession and the direction of his subsequent intellectual develop- 
ment combine to assure us that they were considerably removed from 
the narrow path of orthodoxy. He refused to allow in God any other 
, distinction but the rational or logical one of His own attributes. In 
the person of the Son he recognized the intellect of the Father, and in 
that of the Holy Ghost, the Father's Love, or the Soul of the universe. 
As he held that the Divinity by its infinite nature could not be joined 

1 Revolt of Islam, Dedic. v. 

* ' Egli,' says Prof. Berti of Bruno, ' e pieno di fede nel trionfo della verita, 
nonostante la guerra accanita che a lei muovono i genii maligni, nonoetante 
che egli sia lasoiato solo sulla breccia a pugnare.'— Vita, p. 200. The English 
reader need hardly be reminded of the noble confidence in the inherent sove- 
reignty of truth which marks Milton's Areopagitica. ' ' Though all the winds 
of Doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we 
do injuriously ... to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood 
grapple, who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? ' 
— Ar$opagitica t Prose Works, Bonn's Ed., ii. p. 96. 



Giordano Bruno. 265 

with the finite nature of humanity, his speculations on the Trinity 
induced him to deny the doctrine of the Incarnation, 1 at least in the 
grossly materialistic sense in which it had been affirmed by the 
mediaeval Church. The name of Person he declared inapplicable both 
to the Son and to the Holy Ghost ; and he further based his rejection 
of it on St. Augustine, who admitted that the term was not ancient, 
but novel and of his own time. 2 Such were the thoughts and specu- 
lations of the young idealist on the most profound of all mysteries. 
Whatever their intrinsic value or demerit, we must acknowledge their 
complete congruity with the theories and conclusions of his later 
life. 

The first process to which Bruno was subjected occurred during his 
Noviciate, and was undertaken by the master of the Novices. His 
second process befell him after he was in full orders, and was insti- 
gated by the Father Provincial. 3 The former transgression might 
have been regarded by the authorities as an ebullition of youthful 
waywardness. The latter was more serious, as the lapse of a heretic, 
already once arraigned if not convicted. The inculpated opinions, 
moreover, affected dogmas which, though not found in the actual 
teaching of Christ, the Church had long declared to be of supreme 
importance. Bruno recognized the danger. He departed secretly 
from his beloved Naples, never more to see it ; and took the road to 
Rome, where he arrived in 1576. But he was not allowed to escape 
thus easily. His superiors, with the keen dogmatic apprehension of 
bigots, which is often in exactly inverse ratio to their dull intellectual 
comprehension, had clearly discovered Bruno's abilities. Even had 
they not ascertained the weakness of some of the links in his chain of 
dogma3, his originality and independence of mind would have sufficed 
to stamp him as ' dangerous.' Accordingly, Bruno had not been long 
at Rome before he learnt that the process he had left behind was soon 

1 Berti, Vita, p. 56. 

* Ibid., p. 56, note 2. The passage to which Bruno referred is probably from 
Book vii. of the De Trinitate. ' Hoc utcumque simile est quia et veteres qui 
latine locuti sunt, antequam haberent ista nomina (scilicet personarum vel 
substantiarum), qusB non diu est ut in usum venerunt, pro his naturam dice- 
bant. 1 — August., Op. om., Par. 1694, vol. ii. p. 852. 

8 The ostensible causes of these processes are described by Bruno in words 
which strikingly exemplify the atmosphere of suspicion and repression which 
pervaded a mediaeval convent : * A Napoli era stato processato duo volte, prima 
per haver dato via certe figure e imagini de Santi, e ritenuto un crucefisso solo, 
essendo per questo imputato de sprezzar le imagini de Santi, e anoo per haver 
detto a un novitio che leggeva la historia delle sette alegrezze in versi, che 
cosa voleva far di quel libro, che lo gettasse via, e leggesse piu presto qualche 
altro libro, come e la vita de Santi Padri. 1 — Documenti, vii., Berti, Vita, etc., 
pp. 841-2. 



266 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

to follow him. Indeed, his case had assumed a worse aspect since he 
left Naples; for among the personal effects he abandoned in his hurried 
flight, his enemies discovered certain books of Jerome and Chrysostom 
which had been prohibited, as annotated by the heretic Erasmus. 1 
This secret intelligence alarmed Bruno, who took an early opportunity 
of quitting Rome, having first divested himself of his friar's habit, 
and again assumed his baptismal name of Philip. Professor Berti 
thinks that his flight may have been accelerated by witnessing the 
abjuration of Carranza, 2 Archbishop of Toledo, and of Bruno's own 
order of Dominicans, who had ventured to protest against the worship 
of images and other doctrines of Romanism, as human inventions. 
However this may be, Bruno directed his steps to Genoa. Here he 
established a school for boys ; and also commenced private readings 
with a few adult pupils of the better class, on the Sphere, i.e. Celestial 
Geography. He also wrote a treatise on that subject which is now 
lost, as well as another work also lost, which seems to have borne 
some resemblance in style and subject to his later Dialogues. This 
production was called Noah's Ark} It was probably during this 
period that Bruno pursued those studies of the Copernican astronomy 
which he afterwards incorporated into his system. He did not re- 
main long in Genoa : some unknown reason, perhaps the unsatis- 
factory nature of his surroundings, or his own inborn restlessness, 
impelled him to recommence his wanderings. He repaired first to 
the small sea-port Savona; and from thence to Turin. There his 
arrival chanced to be about the same time that Tasso paid his memor- 
able visit to that town, * a broken down and prematurely aged man, 
sorrow in his heart, disease in his limbs, and rags on his back, and 
was imprisoned by the Turin authorities on suspicion of being infected 
with the plague.' Professor Berti has a brief contrast of the different 
dispositions and destinies of the two men, Tasso a Christian and poet 
of the Cross, Bruno opposed to every religious symbol. The former, 
wearied and disillusionized with the world, ends his days in the retire- 
ment of a convent. The latter, starting from a convent, dies on the 
scaffold, with eyes averted from the crucifix. 

1 Comp. Berti, Vita, p. 56, note 2. 

9 For some account of this confessor to Protestantism, see Berti, Vita, p. 57, 
note 2. Fuller information may be found in De Castro, Historia de las Protes- 
tants Espagnoles, pp. 192-242 ; Cesare Cantu, Oli Eretici <T Italia, ii. p. 824, etc.; 
Llorente, Histoire de V Inquisition, iii. 183-815. 

8 Professor Berti thinks that this work, V area di Not, which was dedicated 
to Pope Pius V., consisted of a symbolical representation of human society by 
means of the animals collected in the ark. It is easy to see what scope such a 
subject afforded for Bruno's imagination, as well as for his humour and 
sarcasm. 



Giordano Bruno. 267 

Bruno tells us that he did not find Turin to his satisfaction. He 
therefore left it and came to Venice. Here he wrote another work, 
The Signs of the Times, which he submitted before publication to a 
learned and pious Dominican who enjoyed high esteem in Venice. 
As the work met with his approval, there was probably nothing in 
it very startling or contrary to the received tenets of Romanism. 
This work is not alluded to in Bruno's subsequent writings. After 
a stay of two months he left Venice and came to Padua. Here he 
fell in with certain former acquaintances of his own order, who urged 
on him the expediency of again adopting the Dominican habit with- 
out re-entering the order. This appears to have been no uncommon 
custom in those days, when we are told that in Italy were some 40,000 
monks who lived outside their convents. Bruno did not follow the 
advice then ; but he did so shortly after, as we shall learn. From 
Padua he journeyed to Brescia, where a curious event befel him. A 
certain monk had suddenly and unexpectedly become a prophet, a 
great theologian, and skilful in languages. His companions, ascrib- 
ing such unwonted erudition to diabolical influences, shut the poor 
man in prison. Bruno relates, sarcastically, that he cured the man of 
his acute attack of learning, and restored him to his former asinine 
condition, by means of a draught which purged his melancholic 
humours. During a short visit to Bergamo, Bruno again adopted the 
Dominican habit, and wore on it his scapular, which he had carefully 
preserved. The incident is worth a passing notice as a proof, which 
may be extended to his after life, that he had no wish, and saw no 
necessity to openly sever himself from his religious order. Bruno's 
next remove was to Milan, where he probably made the acquaintance of 
Sir Philip Sidney, whom he afterwards knew under brighter auspices 
in England. From Milan he once more returned to Turin ; and from 
thence he crossed the Alps and came to Chambery. His first plan 
was to pursue his road to Lyons ; but hearing an indifferent account 
of French convents, he altered his mind, and arrived at Geneva in the 
year 1576. \ 

' The tracks of many proscribed teachers,' says Bartholmess, ' led 
Bruno to Geneva.' No doubt the Swiss state had afforded a welcome 
sanctuary to independent thinkers. As such it was a ' colluvies 
haereticorum ' to the Romanist, and the Canaan of Protestants. But 
the genuine sympathies of Geneva were, as Bruno soon experienced, 
as narrowly exclusive in one direction as those of extreme Romanism 
in another. Bartholmess says, 1 ' The two Churches were governed 
by the same principle of jurisdiction — the criminality of heresies. 

1 Vol. i. p. 59. 



268 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Whoever believed wrongly, that is to say, otherwise than the Holy 
Office or the Venerable Consistory, believed nothing ; and he who 
believed not, committed the crime of treason to God, and deserved 
capital punishment. Persecution hence became a sacred duty, an 
act agreeable to God. The greater its intolerance the greater its 
value.' We shall presently see, in the case of Ramus, something of 
this intolerance on the part of Theodore Beza. Indeed, that great 
reformer was convinced that the toleration of alien, i.e. un-German 
opinions was nothing less than a devilish dogma (diabolicum dogma). 
A Church administered on these principles was not likely to prove 
a haven of rest to our unquiet and free-spirited philosopher. It 
seems probable that Bruno had for some reason misapprehended 
the nature of Genevan freedom ; for according to his own statement 
his chief motive in coming thither was a wish * to live quietly and 
securely.' Such was his answer to a famous Neapolitan refugee of 
high standing in Geneva (Caracciolo Marquis of Vico l ) f who sought 
him a few days after his arrival, for the purpose of ascertaining 
his religious opinions, and his reasons for coming to the head 
quarters of Calvinism. The measure of religious liberty he was 
likely to enjoy there was foreshadowed in this interview, which 
must have opened his eyes to the fact that the Inquisition of the 
Holy Office was not the only court of the kind in Christendom. 
The propriety of becoming a disciple of John Calvin was im- 
mediately urged on him. On Bruno's excusing himself, the suggestion 
was proffered that he had better put off his Dominican habit and 
dress like a layman. This he was enabled to do by the efforts of a 
few Italian refugees, who clubbed together to procure him a suit of 
clothes, with a sword, etc. For the space of two and a half months 
Bruno obtained a precarious livelihood by correcting for the press, 
living all the while quite aloof from the narrow and bigoted society 

1 Galeazzo Caracciolo was one of the most remarkable converts to Calvinism 
in the sixteenth century. The only son of one of the noblest families in Naples, 
the nephew of a Pope (Paul IV.), the darling ohild of his father, who cherished 
on his behalf the most ambitious views, the husband of a noble and wealthy 
lady. The father of six children, Chamberlain at the Court of Naples, 
Cavalier of the Empire, in which his father held a distinguished position, 
the idol of his many and influential friends, he forsook all his honours and 
emoluments, abandoned his parents, wife and children, all of whom he tenderly 
loved, surrendered his brilliant prospects, and fled to Geneva and Calvin in 
in 1551, being at the time only thirty-five years of age. Few biographies of 
the period are more interesting ; and few it may be added exhibit more pain- 
fully the mischievous effects of a perverted view of religious duty. Cf. Berti, 
p. 98, note 2. C. Cantu, 01% Eretici d 1 Italia, ii. p. 11. Heraog, Seal EncyUopadie, 
vol. ii., voce Caraccicli. 



Giordano Bruno. 269 

of Geneva. At the end of that period, finding the alternative of 
starvation or an open profession of Calvinism staring him in the face, 
he took his leave, quietly, and started for Lyons. Such was the first 
of several experiences of Protestant liberty which induced him to 
regard the Reformation as a deformation. At Lyons Bruno stayed 
only ten or twelve days. He next turned his steps to Toulouse. 
Professor Berti supposes that Bruno might here have come in contact 
with Sanchez, who settled in Toulouse, according to my calculations, 
in the very year of Bruno's arrival thither. Neither of the two 
skeptics seem to have mentioned the other ; though they had not a 
few opinions in common as well as a large fund of general sympathy 
for intellectual and spiritual freedom. Here Bruno applied for the 
place of Ordinary Reader of Philosophy in the university. But in 
order to obtain it he was compelled to undergo an examination for a 
Doctor's degree. He did so; and, vanquishing his competitors re- 
ceived the appointment ; thus becoming by dint of superior abilities 
and erudition a professor in the second university of France, where, 
as Professor Berti remarks, he was quite unknown. 

Bruno began lecturing on the De Anima of Aristotle ; a subject 
which afforded free play for the particular bent of his studies, 
and was probably employed for inculcating indirectly some of the 
principles of his Pantheistic Idealism. The topic was further 
suitable on account of its popularity. We have seen l how the 
Immortality of the Soul was the great theme of controversy in the 
preceding century. Though the interest it then excited had now 
begun to wane it was still a prominent subject of debate in Italian 
and French seats of learning. 

For the next two years Bruno continued to lecture at Toulouse. 
During this time he wrote several works, one on the the soul — the 
subject of his early lectures — which is lost Probably its contents 
are, as Professor Berti surmises, to be found in the third part of his 
treatise De umbris idearum. He also wrote the first of his many 
works on the mystical philosophy of Raymond Lulli, which is also 
lost. Besides his literary and professorial work he held public 
disputations, after the fashion of the time, on certain propositions or 
theses, which he announced from time to time as being prepared to 
defend against all comers. But notwithstanding the publicity of 
his teachings it does not appear that Bruno was subjected to harsh 
treatment at Toulouse. It is true that he classes this city with 
Oxford and Paris as places where he had to encounter the fury of 
scholasticism, 9 and Bartholmess, with his paucity of materials, infers 

1 See Chapter on Pomponaszi, above, p. 197, and compare Berti, Vtta % p. 114. 
* * Scholasticum hirorem.' Op. Lat., p. 624. 



270 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

from these words that Bruno was compelled to make a hasty flight 
from Toulouse to escape the fate of Vanini and a few more martyrs 
of free-thought, who had fallen, or were destined to fall, victims to its 
notorious intolerance. 1 But the enmity he thus mentions, as haying 
stirred among schoolmen and Peripatetics, was probably confined to a 
small circle, for we now know that Bruno's stay in Toulouse extended 
to two years and six months (not a few months only, as Bartholmess 
supposed) ; and that he departed thence of his own free will. More- 
over on his removal to Paris in 1579, the fame he had acquired by 
his Toulouse teachings, and the letters of recommendation he took 
with him from that seat of learning, enabled him to introduce himself 
to the city and university of Paris under very favourable auspices ; 
for he tells us that his Doctor's degree, and his appointment as 
Ordinary Lecturer in the former university, gave him the privilege 
of teaching publicly in the university of the capital. 2 

For the first year after his arrival at Paris Bruno took no part in 
piiblic teaching ; being probably deterred by the plague which then 
ravaged the city. Several of his books were however written about 
this time; and perhaps formed the occupation of that leisure interval. 
But Bruno was not a mere student philosopher. The life of the 
recluse thinker was irksome to him. He craved the open arena of 
free teaching and discussion — interchange of thought with the world's 
foremost thinkers. This constituted in his case, as in that of Lessing, 
the very oxygen of his intellectual being. He accordingly began 
teaching on his own private account in the Sorbonne, in order, as he 
says, to bring himself to notice. ' Bruno was/ says Professor Berti, 3 
' the genuine type, the true ideal of the free professor of those times. 
In Toulouse, Paris, London, Oxford, Wittenberg, Prague, Zurich, 
Frankfort, he mounted the professor's rostrum, and lectured, without 
asking the protection or favour of any one. He goes from one 
university to the next, he opens one school against another ; and when 
he encounters an obstacle, as he does at Marburg, he scornfully 
turns his steps in another direction. . . . Happily,' continues 
the Professor, ' the university in those days was not as yet guarded, 
confined, the fief of a privileged few. Bruno and others like him 
could enter it freely, could challenge its professors to single combat, 
and could lecture and dispute before scholars assembled from every 

1 Cf. the next chapter on Vanini, and on Sanchez see the Skeptics of the 
French Renaissance. 

8 It is unfortunate that in his picturesque chapter on Bruno, Mr. G. H. 
Lewes still adheres mainly to the narrative of Bartholomess. Hence his 
account of Bruno is sorely deficient in chronological exactness. See Hist, of 
Philosophy, Edition iii., vol. ii. p. 91. * Vita, p. 121. 



Giordano Bruno. 271 

m 

part of Europe. Thus were developed, by intellectual gymnastics 
and emulation, those strong and laborious teachers of the fifteenth 
and sixteenth centuries, to whom modern nations are indebted for 
their literary and scientific advancement. 

Lecturing at the Sorbonne, it was natural that Bruno should select 
a theological subject. He chose the thirty divine attributes contained 
in the first part of the Summa of Aquinas. This theme allowed 
considerable scope for the discussion of a semi-Pantheistic theology, 
of which no doubt Bruno availed himself ; nor is this, as we already 
know, the only instance in which the wide intellectual success, the 
combined originality and profundity of the angel of schools found 
a sympathetic appreciation at the hands of philosophic Free-thinkers. 
His lectures, or it may have been notes of them, Bruno subsequently 
published under the title of Dei Predicamenti di Dio. By means 
of these and similar public teachings, Bruno's fame extended to the 
court of Henry III., where Italians were at that time in especial 
favour. The king is said to have expressed a wish to know Bruno ; 
and, having made his acquaintance, consulted him on a subject of a 
Memoria Technica, which he professed to teach on the principles of 
Lulli's philosophy. As a token of the royal favour, Bruno was offered 
an Ordinary Lectureship in the university of Paris, which he refused 
on the ground of the obligation it entailed of attending mass. Some 
writers have thought that Bruno's refusal on this ground must have 
exposed him to the hazard of martyrdom ; but in the comparatively 
peaceful circumstances of France and Paris in 1580-81, he ran no 
present risk of coming in contact with the fearful alternative, l Le 
Messe ou la Mart. 9 When he was subsequently offered a chair as 
extraordinary reader in philosophy, which was free from this 
obligation, Bruno accepted it. In return for the king's favour he 
dedicated to him his treatise, De umbris idearum, which contains 
the germs of his system, he also published' a satire, Cantu Circeo, 
and a book written to elucidate and simplify Lulli's Art, but which 
a modern reader must admit stands itself in need both of elucidation 
and simplification. Bruno's successful lectures, court patronage, and 
influential society, made his first residence in Paris an agreeable 
episode in his career, and it was gratefully remembered by him in 
after life. 

At the end of 1583 Bruno came to England. He brought with 
him letters of introduction from Henry III. to the French ambassador 
at the court of Elizabeth. This was Castelnuovo di Mauvissiere, an 

1 Berti, p. 128. 

* ( De compendiosa architectura et complements Artis Lulli.' 



272 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

enlightened, tolerant, and generous man. He welcomed Bruno with 
great cordiality, and made him reside as a private gentleman in his 
own house. This was by far the happiest period in Bruno's life. 
He now enjoyed for the first time the Uberias philosophandi* — a 
formula he is said to have originated — while, of the thing so defined, 
he certainly is, in Europe, one of the earliest and freest exponents. 
He could write and publish his philosophical works without let or 
hindrance. Enjoying the personal friendship of Castelnuovo, living 
on terms of affectionate intimacy with his family, preserving withal 
so much of his old independence that he was not even expected to 
attend mass, though the ambassador and his household were ex- 
tremely punctilious in their devotional duties, Bruno had most of 
his time at his own command, and was able to pursue his studies 
without being harassed by the fear of poverty or the necessity of 
earning his bread. It is no marvel, says Professor Berti, if he called 
Castelnuovo his defence, his only refuge ; and that in gratitude for 
the manifold favours of being housed, nourished, defended, freed, 
preserved in safety, he dedicated to him four of his writings, in order 
to proclaim to the world that to his patron alone is due, ' that the 
new-born philosophy of the Nolan muse is not dead amidst its 
swaddling-clothes.' As it was, * the offspring of the Nolan muse' 
during this period was both numerous and robust, and attained an 
early and flourishing maturity. Some of Bruno's chief works were 
written and published while enjoying the dignified leisure of 
Castelnuovo's hospitality. 2 Nor was Bruno's undoubted genius for 
verbal discussion allowed to remain idle. The house of the French 
ambassador was the resort of a select few of the best contemporary 
representatives of English culture. There Bruno met Sir Philip 
Sidney, Sir Fulke Greville, 'Dyer, Harvey, the poet Spenser, Temple 
the translator of Ramus's Dialectic, and others who took an interest 
in literature and philosophy. In this congenial society the opinions 

1 ( Libertas philosophical Bruno, de Lampade combinatoria. Op. Lat., Ed. 
GfrOrer, p. 624. " La liberta filosofioa, questa frase che egli adopera forae per il 
primo tra gli scrittori a lui coevi, significava un concetto quanto novo per il 
tempo tanto f amigliare e commune per il Bruno, cioe, che la filosofia, la sciemea 
non era sindacabile." — Berti, p. 211. Bartholmess, i. p. 158, note 2. 

1 They are thus enumerated by Berti, p. 185 : — 

1. Explioata triginta sigillorum, etc, dedicated to Castelnuovo. 

2. La Cena delle Ceneri „ „ 1584. 
8. De la Causa, principio et uno „ „ 1584. 

4. De I' Infinite, universo e mondi „ „ 1584. 

5. Spaccio de la Bestia trionfante, dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, 1584. 

6. Cabala del Cavallo Pegaseo, 1585. 

7. De Gli eroici f urori, dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, 1585. 




Giordano Bruno. 273 

and theories of the foremost spirits of the age, continental as well 
as English, were debated with freedom, sympathy, and intelligence. 
Bruno's work, the Cena delle Ceneri, is an offspring of these philo- 
sophical reunions — a reminiscence of ancient symposia ; ' and conveys 
a pleasing impression of the social urbanity, the varied learning, the 
profound thought and philosophical acuteness which characterized 
them. The religious questions which were then agitating Europe 
come in for their share of attention ; and are debated with marvellous 
.freedom from the preposessions of Romanism, on the one hand, and 
Protestantism on the other, Professor Berti observes that these 
meetings of free-thinkers with their disputations on religion, under 
his own roof, afford a striking proof of the tolerance of Castelnuovo, 
who, judging from his opinion of the colloquy of Passy, disliked 
religious controversy, for the reason that religion ' Ne se peut bien 
entendre que par la foy et par humilite.' * As a distinguished guest 
of the French ambassador, and also as a thinker of considerable 
reputation, Bruno was presented to Queen Elizabeth ; who, as usual 
with learned foreigners, seems to have left a favourable impression 
on him. 3 The eulogistic terms in which he was accustomed to speak 
of the English queen, and other heretic princes, formed one item in 
the charges which the Inquisition proffered against him. 

But there is one episode in Bruno's English life whioh we must 
not pass over; and that is his brief connexion with Oxford. I n ~\ 
addition to his craving for intellectual notoriety, he was possessed J 
of the conviction that Providence destined him to be one of those / 
* mercurial spirits ' occasionally sent from heaven to enlighten mankind. 4 . 
Hence he was always desirous of some prominent position as a public \ 
teacher. This was probably the feeling that induced him to address ' 
the authorities of the University of Oxford, which he did in a letter 
to the Vice-Chancellor, prefixed to the work he first published after 
his arrival in this country — Spiegazione di trenta sigilli. This 

1 Barth., i. p. 181, compares the contemporary and more celebrated club of 
the ' Mermaid Tavern.' 

1 Berti, p. 1G0, note 8, 

8 He calls her * grande Anfitrite, Diana, nnme della Terra.' Comp. what 
Berti truly calls the excessive eulogies of Elizabeth in Op. Ital., i, pp. 144 and 
280. 

4 De Umbris Idearum, p. 18. 'Non cessat providentia Deorum (dixerunt 
JEgyptii saoerdotes) statutis quibusdam temporibus mittere horn in i bus Mer- 
curio* quotdam etiamsi eosdem minime vel male receptum iri proecognoscant.' 
That Bruno considered himself one of these ( mercurial spirits ' is clear from 
other passages in his works. Mocenigo, in his denunciation, affirmed that 
Bruno had confessed to him that he wished to make himself the author of a 
new sect, under the name of the New Philosophy. Cf. Berti, p. 188, note. 

VOL. I. T 



2 74 ^k Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

letter is a very curious production. 1 Indeed, its vainglorious language 
is only explicable on the writer's profound conviction of his heaven- 
inspired philosophical mission. Either this epistle, or the credentials 
Bruno brought with him from Paris, or else his general fame as a 
philosopher, procured for him the coveted permission to lecture in the 
university. Accordingly, he lectured on the 'immortality of the 

tsoul ; ' and on ' the five-fold sphere ; ' * in other words, on subjects 
allied to his theological metaphysics and his Copernican astronomy. 
It is needless to state that the Oxford of 1583 did not evince very 
warm sympathies with a theology so far removed both from Romanist 
and Anglican creeds, nor with a physical science not to be found in 
Aristotle. Bruno, who was so well acquainted with continental 
universities, estimates the scientific and philosophical acquirements 
of Oxford at an extremely low rate. He calls it ' una costellazione 
di pedantesca ostinatissima ignoranza e presunzione mista con una 
rustica incivilita, che farebbe prevaricar la pazienza di Giobbe.' s 
Bruno clearly was far from possessing the patience of Job ; and a 
short experience enabled him to perceive the futility of continuing 
to pay unwelcome addresses to the ( widow of sound learning/ 4 as he 
wittily nicknamed our great university. 

Bruno was at Oxford during the festivities and intellectual tourna- 
ments with which the university celebrated the arrival of the Polish 
Prince Alasco, in 1583. He took a public part in the contests, as the 
defender of the Copernican system, against the Ptolemaic ; and as the 
implacable foe of the Peripateticism then rampant at Oxford. Fifteen 
times, Bruno assures us, he closed the mouth of the unfortunate 
Doctor whom the university had selected as the Goliath of their 
Philistinism, 6 to maintain the dogmas of the immobility of the earth 
and the moveabieness of the heavens. The dispute grew warm. 
Bruno complains of the incivility and discourtesy of ( the Pig* chosen 
to oppose him ; and lauds the patience and humanity with which he 

1 See it quoted by Berti, p. 167, note 1. It is translated, but not very 
correctly, by Bartholmess, i. p. 122, note 1, e.g. describing his * general 
philanthropy/ Bruno says, ' Qui non magis Italum quam Britannum, marem 
quain foeminam, mitratum quam coronatum, togatum quam armatum cucul- 
latum hominem quam sine cuculla virum . . . diligit,' which Bartholmess 
renders, ( qui aime (Tune ggale affection Italiens et Anglais, meres et jeunes 
epouses!' etc. 

9 Opera Ital., i. 179. Ed. Wagner. 

» Op. Ital., i. 179. 

4 ( Vedova de le buone lettere, per quanto appartiene a la professione di 
filosofia e reali matematiche ne le quali mentre sono tutti ciechi, vengono 
questi asini, e ne si vendono per oculati,' etc., etc. Op. Ital., i. p. 123. 

5 This was a certain Dr. Lyson, as appears from Wood's Antiq. Oxon. 



Giordano Bruno. 275 

repelled his swinish attacks, as a proof of his Neapolitan origin, and 
his nurture under a brighter sky. It is of course too much to expect 
of the controversialist of the time, even when, like Bruno, he is a \ 
native of the genial south, that he should exercise the same courtesy J 
in recounting, as in performing his deeds of intellectual prowess. 

The biographer of Bruno, who knows what disasters are still in 
store for him, feels a natural repugnance at quitting this peaceful 
and happy period of his life. Professor Berti speculates on what 
would have been Bruno's future intellectual development had he 
continued to live in England. His general lot would have been very 
different; he would have escaped at least the fate which ultimately 
befel him; 1 though his own restlessness would in all likelihood have 
exposed him to difficulties. The lesson of toleration was as yet very I 
imperfectly acquired in this country ; and Bruno's philosophy, which 
he must needs have taught with his usual courage and unreserve, 
was both too opposed to generally received forms of Christianity, and 
too alien from the practical genius of Englishmen, to be acceptable 
to more than the narrow circles of thinkers who had imbibed the 
broader culture of continental, and especially Italian universities. 
With all the felicitous circumstances of his situation as an esteemed 
inmate of Castelnuovo's house, there were intermingled some few 
drawbacks to his happiness. The climate of England was such a 
wretched contrast to that of his beloved Naples ; the coarse, almost 
brutal manners of Englishmen, their insular arrogance and ignorance, 
their insuperable dislike of foreigners, differed so completely from 
the refinement and gentle courtesy of his own countrymen, that 
Bruno's complete acclimatization would have been a protracted, if not 
impossible process. England in the sixteenth century was, we must 
remember, far behind Italy in knowledge and culture as well as 
in other elements of civilization. The combined pedantry and ignor- 
ance that Bruno found in Oxford, and which he castigated so vigor- 
ously in La Cena de la Ceneri, was only the academic maturity of 
defects which characterized the average English gentleman. Under 
all the circumstances of the case I am of opinion that Bruno was 
un suited by birth, temperament and intellect to lead a genuinely 
happy life in our cold, gloomy, and dull island. Some foretaste of 
the difficulties continued residence here would have occasioned, was 
afforded by the outcry which assailed him on account of his free 
criticism of Oxford ignorance, and English ill-manners, in the Cena de 

1 Hal lam, who also speculates on the same contingency, observes : ' It had 
been well for Bruno if he had kept himself under the protection of Diana 
(Queen Elizabeth). The " chaste beams of that watery moon" were less 
scorching than the fires of the Inquisition.' Literature of Europe, ii. p. 191. 



276 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

la Ceneri. His remarks gave such umbrage, that Bruno found it 
expedient to give a modified version of his criticism in his next 
published work, the De la Causa principio et uno. l 

Towards the close of 1585 Bruno returned to Paris in the suite of 
Castelnuovo. Soon after his arrival he resumed his occupation of 
lecturing and disputing in the Sorbonne. This his Doctor's degree 
from Toulouse, as well as his former position as Extraordinary Reader 
of Philosophy, enabled him to do without requiring the permission 
of the authorities. He selected, to defend his theses, an enthusiastic 
disciple called Hennequin, who afterwards edited and published his 
defence. Bruno's contests during this second sojourn in Paris were 
with the Peripatetics, and seem to have excited both attention and 
some degree of animosity. Nevertheless, it was not on account of 
this excitement that he left the French capital in the early part of 
1586; but rather because of the civil discords which were then 
agitating France, and in accordance with a determination he had 
some time previously expressed of visiting other continental uni- 
versities. This resolution he carried into effect by visiting Marburg, 
where he arrived in July, 1586. One of his first acts at Marburg 
was the inscription of his name among the scholars of the university 
as * Jordanus Nolanus Neapolitans, Theologies Doctor Romanensis.' 
Having thus asserted his membership, he demanded of the Rector 
permission to lecture publicly. This that functionary, after con- 
sultation with the faculty of philosophy, thought proper to refuse 
' for grave reasons.' Bruno was so indignant at this treatment — so 
different from all his prior experience of university usages — that he 
went to the Rector's house and rated him soundly for acting in 
contravention to the rights of nations, the customs of all the German 
universities, and all human studies. Bruno's biographers have been 
puzzled to discover the ( grave reasons ' which induced the authorities 
of Marburg to act as they did. Professor Berti is probably right 
in supposing that their Protestant sensitiveness took alarm at the 
designation, Doctor in Roman Theology, which he appended to his 
name; though that was the sole title by which he could claim to 
lecture in any university in Europe. 

Bruno immediately left Marburg, and after a few days' stay at 
Mayence, arrived at Wittenberg. Here he was received with courtesy. 
He was immediately allowed to lecture, without any inquiry into his 
religious or philosophical creed, and without the production of any 
letters of recommendation which he had received from different princes 
and universities.* His lecture-room was speedily crowded, and now, 

1 Op. Ital., i. Comp. Berti, p. 178. 

8 In a valedictory oration which Bruno addressed to the university autho- 



Giordano Bruno. 277 

before a Lutheran audience, Bruno set forth his sublime speculations 
on the Infinite just as he had before the Romanists of Toulon and 
Paris, and the Anglicans of Oxford. The first year of his Wittenberg 
residence he devoted to these metaphysical speculations, which also 
gave rise to two treatises on Lulli's system. During the second year, 
1588, he lectured on Aristotle's Organon 1 probably employing it as a 
basis for inculcating Lulli's logic. Bruno stayed at Wittenberg two 
years, and would probably have stayed longer, but a change on the 
throne of Saxony, by which Christian I. became Elector in name, and 
Casimir, his relative, a jealous Calvinist, Elector in reality, threatened 
to give Calvinists a superiority over Lutherans in the University of 
Wittenberg. His Genevan experiences had taught Bruno the 
peculiarly harsh and bitter nature of Caivinistic intolerance. He 
therefore took his leave of Wittenberg and the Lutheran friends he 
had formed there, with much regret on both sides. So cordial had 
been his relations with the tolerant Lutheranism which, under 
Melanohthon's benign influence, at that time reigned in Wittenberg, 
that the rumour was circulated that he had joined the Lutheran 
Church. He had no doubt manifested his appreciation of the anti- 
papal traditions of Wittenberg, and concurred in the Lutheran 
definition of the Pope as Antichrist ; but it does not appear, as was 
afterwards alleged, that he wrote a panegyric of Satan as a praise- 
worthy contrast to the Vicar of Christ. 

From Wittenberg Bruno went to Prague. On his arrival here he 
published two works which he dedicated to the Spanish ambassador 
at the court of Rudolf II. This monarch, the patron of Kepler and 
Tycho Brahe — was a devout believer in occult science. He spent his 
days in searching for the philosopher's stone, and his nights in 
surveying the stars for astrological purposes. Bruno might have 
expected to find him a patron of the Luilian Cabbala, to which he 
was himself becoming more and more addicted. The works he had 
dedicated to the Spanish ambassador having failed of their purpose, 
i.e. to bring him into notice, Bruno determined to address the 
Emperor himself. For this purpose he composed a work with the 
striking title, One Hundred and Sixty Articles against the Mathe- 
maticians and Philosophers of the Present Time. To this he pre- 
fixed a dedication, in which he claims the utmost liberty of judgment 
in the liberal sciences, affirming that in these matters he does not 

rities of Wittenberg, he thus recounts their frank and generous reception of 
him : ' Non nasum introsistis, non sannas exacuistis, bucca non sunt inflate 
pulpita non strepuerunt, in me non est scholasticus furor (as at Toulouse) 
incitatus . . . Interim et philosophicam libertatem illibatam conservatis.' 
Op. Lat., p 624. Compare Bartholmess, i. 155. 



278 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

allow the authority of parents, of masters, of traditions or of customs. 
In philosophy, truth must be beheld with one's own eyes, not with 
those of another. He avows that his independence and devotion to 
truth have cost him much ; nevertheless he has come victoriously out 
of every struggle, sustained by a conviction of truth, and guided by 
a divine and superior light. 1 The Emperor accepted the book, and 
sent 300 thalers, as a present, to Bruno. The money was most 
acceptable, for his circumstances were now in a very straitened 
condition. But though he was thus enabled to subsist and pay his 
way for the time, his position at Prague was unsatisfactory. He 
lacked what had become to him the essential of a happy existence — 
public lectures and disputings, the encouragement and excitement 
produced by the applause of enthusiastic pupils. Again Bruno 
moved and this time to Helmstadt; where under the patronage of 
the House of Brunswick, the new university founded in 1576 was 
rising into fame. Bartholmess and other biographers of Bruno 
have asserted that he left Prague with letters of recommendation to 
the court of Brunswick, which obtained for him the education of 
the young Duke Henry Julius ; but neither in his known works nor 
in the Venice documents is there anything to support this assertion. 
Equally devoid of -foundation is another report concerning Bruno's 
Helmstadt life, viz. that he was chosen by the university to deliver 
an oration at the funeral of the reigning Duke. That he read an 
oration on the occasion is certain ; but it was not at the solicitation 
of the university, or of any portion of it. It was merely the exercise 
he, as usual, set himself on arriving at a new university, to elicit 
public attention. In this he succeeded. The young Duke read 
Bruno's speech ; and was so pleased with it that he bestowed on him 
great commendations, as well as the more tangible recognition of a 
sum of money. Bruno might, after such an auspicious beginning, 
have expected a long and peaceful career in the Helmstadt University ; 
but a dispute with Boetius, the superintendent of the Evangelical 
Church, led to his excommunication by that functionary. Bruno 
appealed against the judgment ; but probably mistrusting the issue 
of the appeal against such a potentate, he left Helmstadt quietly, 
and in April, 1590, we find him at Frankfort, whence he issued 
(without naming them) a decree of f ulmination against the Brunswick 
theologians. 

At Frankfort Bruno became acquainted with the celebrated pub- 
lishers Wechel, worthy successors of the Aldii and Stephens of a 
preceding age. Their house was the resort of all the learning and 
culture which came to Frankfort. These estimable persons received 

1 Berti, p. 228. 



Giordano Bruno. 279 

Bruno with great cordiality, and procured him lodgings in a Car- 
melite convent at their own expense. Frankfort was then celebrated 
for its fairs, which took place twice a year, and drew together 
merchants and traders from every country in Europe. Among the 
rest who visited it on these occasions were learned men who came to 
inspect the wares of its numerous book-shops, and to exchange 
literary and philosophical news. At one or other of the principal 
book marts these men, representatives of most of the universities in 
Europe, were in the habit of congregating and discussing different 
learned subjects, as mathematics, astronomy, theology and philosophy. 
The book-shops thus subserved the ends which are now attained by 
literary clubs and newspapers, and the meetings of learned societies. 
They were intellectual stock-exchanges, centres for the intercommuni- 
cation and diffusion of different literary products. These reunions 
we may well suppose were admirably suited to our skeptic's taste ; 
and he took part in them with his usual enthusiasm. 

Among those who came to the spring fair of 1591 were two Venetian 
booksellers, Giotto and Britanno, the former of whom kept a well- 
known book-store in Venioe at the sign of the Minerva. They took 
lodgings near the Carmelite monastery, where Bruno had taken up 
his quarters. They fell in with him on several occasions, and the 
discourse, as was inevitable, turned on Bruno's varied contributions 
to philosophical literature, and his opinions. On their return to 
Venice they took with them one of Bruno's works just published in 
Frankfort, probably (so Professor Berti thinks) the work De Monade 
Numero et Figura. This work Ciotto showed to a young Venetian 
of noble family, but of superstitious and weak intellect, who used to 
frequent his shop. It would appear that this man had dabbled in 
some branch of the sciences known as occult ; and he inferred from 
Bruno's book that he had in reserve a large amount of esoteric lore, 
which the work only hinted at. Bruno thus seemed to be a teacher 
precisely adapted for himself. He prevailed on his friend Ciotto to 
forward a letter, begging him to come to Venice to instruct him. 
He himself followed up Ciotto's espistle by a missive of his own, 
addressed directly to Bruno, and requesting him to come to him with 
all convenient speed. 

Fifteen years' wandering over Europe had only intensified the love ] 
that Bruno always cherished for Italy. He regarded the invitation 
of Mocenigo as a providential call homewards to the sunny skies, the 
genial climate! the gentler and more cultured people of his native 
land. It is possible, though his parents were both dead, that some 
friend or relative may have still been living in the well-remembered 
neighbourhood of Mount Cicala, whence he had wandered into a 



280 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

world which, to his passionate longing after freedom, had been little 
else than Egyptian bondage, or the narrow confines of a gaol cell. 
For a moment was forgotten, or perhaps unseen, like a viper lurking 
behind flowers, the authority of the Inquisition, the racks and 
pinions of the Holy Office, the processes for heresy which so many 
years before had driven him from his home, the martyrdoms for 
free-thought, of which not a few must have been within his own 
personal knowledge. He only saw the fascinating aspects of his 
early and only love. He therefore immediately closed with Mocenigo's 
offer. Not only so, but he departed from Frankfort in such haste 
that he left uncorrected the last few pages of a book which the 
brothers Wechel were publishing for him. 

Bruno arrived at Venice in 1592, and placed himself at the dis- 
posal of his new patron and pupil. The connexion was ill-omened 
in every respect. Mocenigo was the complete antipodes of his master 
in mental qualities, education and disposition; indeed, he was a 
(^ gloomy, superstitious, mistrustful fanatic. It is difficult at first sight 
to conceive what Bruno could find to teach such an unpromising 
pupil. But in the Venetian documents he says that what Mocenigo 
wished to learn, and what he therefore imparted, consisted of his 
Lullian Cabbala, together with his method of artificial memory. But 
whatever the tuition, it would seem that it was not at first of a 
nature calculated to arouse Mocenigo's extreme orthodox sensitive- 
ness. The intercourse of master and pupil assumed such en amicable 
character, that Bruno was prevailed upon to take up his abode in 
Mocenigo's house. Meanwhile he followed his usual avocations ; for 
in addition to his stipulated converse with his pupil, he was engaged 
in superintending the publication of new works; while he spent 
much of his leisure in the different bookshops, especially in that of 
Ciotto, and held controversies with those who frequented these 
literary lounges. Nor were these the only opportunities which Bruno 
enjoyed for free discussion, and of which he availed himself with a 
readiness which under the circumstances betrays a want of ordinary 
caution. In Venice, as in other Italian towns, the spirit of the 
Renaissance, and the momentous and interesting questions it started, 
gave rise to the formation of private debating clubs, in which the 
varied topics then agitating the mind of Europe, were discussed 
with more or less freedom and completeness. There were two 
resorts of this kind in Venice, — one, in the house of an opulent 
merchant, Secchini, the other in that of Morosini, a man of culture 
and learning, who occupied the important post of chief historiographer 
of Venice. The reunions at Secchini's occupied themselves chiefly 
with scientific discoveries, while those at Morosini's discussed 



Giordano Bruno. 281 

questions of literature and philosophy. To Morosini's seances Bruno 
was introduced by Ciotto soon after his arrival, and was received 
with great cordiality. The part which Bruno took in the discussions 
there was afterwards borne witness to before the Venetian inquisitors 
by Morosini himself, as having been of a literary and philosophical 
character, and having nothing to do with religion, whence we may note! 
that the complete severance between philosophy and theology, which 
was an axiom with the free-thinkers of the Renaissance, was an 
admitted principle with these private discussion clubs; nay, it 
probably constituted their chief raison d'etre. 

During this time Bruno paid occasional visits to the neighbouring 
university of Padua, and gave private lectures to some German 
students. The longest stay he made there did not however exceed 
two months, so that those writers are in error who affirm that he 
resided in Padua for some time, and became acquainted with Galileo. 
The chronology of Bruno's life, as finally determined by the Venetian 
documents, proves that he could have had no personal acquaintance 
with Galileo, who did not commence lecturing at Padua until some 
months after his long incarceration had begun. The only traceable 
point of contact between the two men consists in the fact that the 
extradition decree which surrendered Bruno to the Inquisition at 
Rome was signed by the same official who invited Galileo to lecture 
at Padua. Between his occupations at Venice and occasional visits to 
Padua, Bruno passed some seven or eight months. All the while the 
manifold and radical dissimilarities between himself and Mocenigo 
were growing to an open rupture. Portions of the master's teaching 
had aroused the suspicion of the mistrustful and narrow-minded pupil, 
who perhaps took ( omne ignotum pro hgeretico.' He confided his 
suspicions to his confessor; and received in return the advice to 
ascertain Bruno's errors more fully, and then to denounce him to the 
Inquisition. From this time Mocenigo acted the degrading part of 
a spy on his poor unsuspicious tutor; whom he had invited from 
Frankfort, into whose confidence he had wound himself, and who 
by his own desire was the inmate of his house and the companion of 
his leisure hours. He seems to have used the knowledge he had 
acquired of the susceptible points of Bruno's enthusiastic temperament 
to draw him out, as De Francon did Vanini, and make him commit 
himself. Ultimately, having procured sufficient materials for the 
accusation, he determined to denounce his guest to the Inquisition ; 
impelled thereto, as he himself says, by the advice of his confessor, 
and the bidding of his conscience. The denunciation was formally 
made by a letter dated the 23rd of May. 

Meanwhile Bruno discovered, by the altered demeanour of his 



282 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

pupil, and by questions proposed with the obvious purpose of con- 
victing him of heresy, the secret conspiracy that was being formed 
against him. Accordingly he determined to return to Frankfort. 
He sent all his MSS. already completed to the press, put his other 
affairs in order, and attempted, not very wisely it may be said, to 
take leave of his treacherous pupil on the 21st of May. Mocenigo, 
however, would not part with him. First with persuasions, then 
with threats, he endeavoured to persuade Bruno to remain. Finding 
his efforts ineffectual, he resolved to anticipate the action of the 
Inquisition, and even his own denunciation, by making him a prisoner. 
This he effected in a way which proves his own transformation, not 
an uncommon one, from the superstitious weakling to the blood- 
thirsty zealot. Towards midnight of Friday, the 22nd of May, he 
entered the bedchamber where Bruno was asleep, accompanied by 
his servant and five or six gondoliers of the neighbourhood, and on 
the pretext of wishing to converse with him conducted him to a 
garret, and then locked him in. The next day Mocenigo forwarded 
his denunciation to the Inquisitors x who immediately sent an officer 
to his house. He took formal possession of the prisoner, brought him 
down from the garret, and locked him up in a warehouse on the 
ground floor of the house, whence he was removed on the night of 
Saturday, the 23rd of May, into the prison of the Inquisition. With 
this ill-omened event ends the free life of our unhappy free-thinker. 
Henceforth there remains for him a cruel imprisonment of eight long 
years, terminating with the stake. 

Bruno's trial before the Venetian Inquisitors began on the 26th of 
May. The booksellers Giotto and Brutanno, who had known him 
in Frankfort, were cited to bear evidence concerning him. Answer- 
ing the interrogatories of his judges, Bruno explained the reason why 
he had left Frankfort and come to Venice. He then proceeded to 

A recount in order the chief events of his life. For several days he con- 
tinued his narrative, and this autobiography, preserved in the Venetian 

, documents, now constitutes the sole authority for most of his life. 
Coming to his opinions, he laid stress on the doctrine of Twofold 
Truth, then so generally recognized in Italy. He said that he~was a 
Philosopher, not a Theologian; as such he claimed a freedom of 

, inquiry and exposition to which he confessed a theologian would 
have had no claim. This is the key-note of his defence, and he 
repeatedly recurs to it. He admitted that indirectly his doctrine 
might come into conflict with the Christian faith just as it might 
with the teaching of Aristotle or Plato. He denied that he had ever 

1 Documenti interno a Giordano Bruno. Borne, 1880. They are translated 
in Miss Frith's History, pp. 262-265. 



Giordano Bruno. 283 

taught or written anything directly contrary to Christianity. He 
then proceeded to expound his philosophical creed, without trying, 
as Professor Berti well remarks, to minimize or hide its implication. k 
He distinctly avowed that he believed in an universe infinite in ) .' 
extent, and infinite also as consisting of innumerable worlds. He 
maintained that these worlds, scattered through space, were like our 
own. This universe, he believed, was governed by a general and 
constant law, which he termed Providence, by means of which every- 
thing lives, grows, moves, and attains its perfection. The Divine 
Being possesses those principal attributes, power, wisdom, and good- 
ness, in other words, mind, intellect, and love. 1 The first of these 
is the source of general existence, the second is the cause of 
particular or distinct existence, while the concord or harmony be- 
tween these two is sustained by the third, or love. The word creation 
expressed, he said, the dependence of the world on its first cause : 
which is true whether we conceive it to be eternal, or created. He 
freely admitted having doubted, in terms of the natural reason, the 
Incarnation of the Word, called by philosophers the Intellect, or son 
of the mind ; so also the Holy Spirit, or, according to theologians, the 
third Person of the Trinity was by him regarded and defined as the 
soul of the universe, in harmony with the doctrine expressed in/ 
VirgiPs verses : — 

4 Spiritus intus alit, totamque infusa per artus, 
Mens agitat molem,' 

or in accordance with the passage of Solomon, ( Spiritus Domini 
replevit orbem terrarum. ,si 

The Inquisitors, probably puzzled at a scheme of theology, which, 
preserving the terms of Christian orthodoxy, interpreted them in a 
manner so novel, requested Bruno to repeat the outlines of his system. 
He readily consented, using nearly the same terms. They suggested 
that he had been accused of Arianism, to which he immediately 
answered, that in conversation he had more than once avouched his 
opinion that the doctrine of Arius was less pernicious than was com- 
monly supposed. With equal readiness he replied to other allegations 
respecting his relation to the Church ; maintaining that he held what 
the Church taught, at the same time admitting that he was to blame 
for not observing her rules more precisely ; and promised amendment 
for the time to come. Being asked his opinion respecting miracles, 
he answered that he had always believed the miracles of Christ were 

1 Comp. Op. Ital., ii. 279. 

1 Berti, Vita, p. 259. Comp., Book of Wisdom i. 7. Ilrev/ta KvpLw t€tMif*m 



284 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

divine, true, real, and not pretended — consequently a secondary 
testimony of His divinity, as its higher attestation is the Law of the 
Gospels. He said he believed in the transubstantiation of the bread 
and wine into the body and blood of Christ really and substantially ; 
only he excused himself for not attending mass, assigning as an 
impediment his excommunication. To the same impediment he 
ascribed his neglect of confession for sixteen years ; although he held 
that the Sacrament of Penance was ordained to purge our sins, and 
he believed that every man dying in mortal sin would be damned. 

Bruno's defence had already comprehended some of the counts 
of Mocenigo's indictment; but more alarming ones still remained. 
Among other strange allegations, Mocenigo said, Bruno had told 
him that Jesus was a crafty personage, who might easily have fore- 
seen His crucifixion, because He did crafty deeds to deceive the 
people — that He was a magician and performed apparent miracles, 
and so also did the apostles — that he himself had a mind to perform 
as many, and even more than they did. That there was no punishment 
for sin. That souls passed from one body into another, and are 
begotten of corruption as all other animals. That our faith is full 
of blasphemies — that the monks are apes. That St. Thomas and all 
the doctors are ignoramuses ; and that he knew enough to put all the 
theologians in the world to silence — that he intended to apply himself 
to the Art of Divination so that all nations should run after him. 
That the usages of the Church then were not those the apostles 
employed. That the world could not last much longer as it was — that 
a general reform was needful — that on this point he hoped great 
things of the king of Navarre — that he was therefore anxious to 
publish his works so as to bring himself into credit, because he was 
sure of a place at the head of this reform, and would enjoy the 
treasures of others — that he was fond of women, and thought it no 
sin to obey the impulses of Nature. 

Such an imbroglio of accusations, probable, specious and utterly 
absurd could only have occurred to a mind like Mocenigo's, a com- 
bination of intellectual imbecility and gloomy fanaticism. To all 
these allegations Bruno gave a distinct and even vehement denial. 
When e.g. he was confronted with the charge of calling Jesus crafty, 
a doer of cunning works, his features assumed an expression of 
deep pain, while he exclaimed he did not know how such a thing 
could have been imputed to him. When he was further charged 
with terming Christ a magician, and saying he was confident he 
could do the same miracles that Christ and His apostles had done, 
he lifted his hand to heaven, and in a passionate tone of voice said, 
' What thing is this ? Who has invented this devilish accusation ? 



Giordano Bruno. 285 

Not only have I never uttered such things, but they have never even 
crossed my imagination. God, what does this mean? I would 
rather die than say such a thing.' He had himself given a list of 
his works to the tribunal. Of these he fully admitted the author- 
ship and accepted the responsibility. He gave reasons why some, 
which were printed in London bore Venice or Paris on their title- 
pages. He added — not the least mark of the bond fides and candour 
which characterize Bruno in these trying scenes — that his writings 
sufficiently demonstrated the measure of his excellence ; and that no 
examination of them would discover that he had sought to bring the 
Catholic religion into contempt. 

Assuming the right of the tribunal to inquire into the religious 
opinions of Bruno, it cannot be said that he was treated with undue 
harshness by the Venetian Inquisition. Partly this was owing to the 
independent status of the Holy Office in that city, 1 — a reflex of her 
free institutions, which induced a more cautious and impartial treat- 
ment of those who came before it. Partly it may be ascribed to the 
subtle policy of pretended kindness and sympathy by which the un- 
wary victims were further entangled in the toils the Inquisition spread 
around them. On this occasion they seem to have treated Bruno's 
assumed errors almost as if they were the inevitable aberrations of 
one who starting from Philosophy had accidentally come into conflict 
with Theology. They passed over those points in his confession in 
which the divergency from orthodox belief was most clearly marked, 
and dwelt on those on which he himself had expressed something 
like a regret for such a seeming antagonism. This was precisely 
the seductive method best adapted for Bruno's warm and enthusiastic 
temperament. Easily hardened by opposition and abuse, he was 
evidently amenable to the milder treatment of gentle remonstrance, 
semi-acquiescent protests and persuasive reasoning. There is at 
least no doubt that, like his contemporary Galileo, Bruno yielded to 
the hypocritical blandishments of the Holy Office, and fell a victim 
to its unholy cunning in discovering the more easily accessible or 
assailable points in the characters of the unhappy beings brought 
within its jurisdiction. 

At the end of his second examination (May 30th) he expressed some 
regret that in his works he had discoursed too much as a philosopher 
and not sufficiently as a good Christian. On the 3rd of June he told 
his judges that he ( detested and abhorred all the errors he had com- 

1 Probably this did not differ greatly from what it was a century later in 
1685, when the complete subordination of the Inquisition to the Deputies of 
the Senate was observed, and described by Bishop Burnet in his work, Some 
Letters from Switzerland and Italy, pp. 154-5. 



286 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

mitted tip to the present time against the Catholic faith, all the 
heresies he had held, and the doubts he had entertained respecting 
the belief and dogmas of holy Church,' adding, ' I repent of having 
done, held, said, believed, or doubted things not Catholic, and I 
implore this sacred tribunal, in pity to my infirmity, to receive me into 
the Church, providing for me remedies useful for my salvation, and 
to have mercy upon me.' On the 30th of July, when brought before 
the Venetian Inquisitors for the last time, he renewed his protestations 
of penitence. * It may be,' he said to the judges, ' that in such a long 
course of time I have erred and strayed from holy Church in other 
ways than those I have already indicated, and am thereby entangled 
in other censures; but so far as I know, and I have thought much 
concerning the matter, I am quite unaware of it ; I have confessed 
and do now readily confess my errors, and I put myself in the hands 
of your most illustrious tribunal to receive a remedy on behalf of my 
salvation. As to my sorrow for my misdeeds, I am unable to say how 
great it is, nor can I adequately express my feelings.' Having uttered 
these words he fell on his knees and continued : — ' I humbly ask par- 
don of the Lord God, and of your most illustrious tribunal, for all the 
errors I have committed, and am ready to endure what your prudence 
may prescribe for me, and what you deem expedient for my soul. I 
further entreat that you will immediately award me a punishment, 
whose excess may be a public notification in due proportion to the 
disgrace I may have brought on my sacred habit as a monk. And if 
by the mercy of God, and of your most illustrious tribunal, my life 
shall be granted, I promise to effect such a marked reformation of it, 
as shall recompense for the scandal I have given.' 1 

With the exception of distinct and repeated refusals to recant, and 
the defiant utterance with which he met his final sentence, nearly 
eight years after, these are Bruno's last authentic words. They 
serve to show that the infamous methods of the Inquisition had suc- 
ceeded in temporarily humbling one of the most daring spirits that 
ever lived. How long the humiliation really lasted, by what means 
it was effected, how far its form was suggested by the officers of the 
Inquisition, or was the ex animo confession of Bruno himself, we shall 
never know. Bemembering Bruno's undaunted spirit, I incline to the 
belief that it was extorted from the poor wretch by a promise of 
liberty, or by the tortures of the rack ; or it may have been induced 
by the debilitating effect of a dreary imprisonment on such a freedom- 
loving spirit, or by some other of the iniquitous means by which the 
Holy Office induced false confessions when they were unable to obtain 
true. 

1 Bei t : , p. 264, and documents in the same work, pp. 884-5. 



Giordano Bruno. 287 

After this examination and recantation, Bruno was remitted to his 
prison ; where for some inexplicable reason he remained for seven or 
eight weeks, without, so far as is known, any further proceedings 
being taken respecting him. At the end of that period the acts of 
his process were forwarded to Rome ; and Cardinal Sanseverino, the 
chief Inquisitor, wrote in September requiring Bruno's extradition. 
The Venetian authorities seem to have treated the request with some 
coldness, whether as evincing their customary jealousy of foreign 
interference, or as seems to me not unlikely, Bruno found some 
secret support, either among his judges or among persons able to 
influence them. More than once Sanseverino, already thirsting for 
the blood of our poor skeptic, had to repeat his demand. Special 
grounds were urged for the request. Thus he was claimed as having 
been a native of Naples, and because, in early years, he had been 
implicated in other processes for heresy. It was also alleged that 
Bruno was not an ordinary heretic ; he was a monk, nay, more, he was 
an heresiarch monk ; it was precisely one of those extraordinary cases 
which all the Inquisition tribunals had been accustomed to resign to 
the jurisdiction of the chief office at Borne. 

At last, as an act of personal favour to the Pope, whom it was 
desirable to conciliate, it was deemed politic to yield to the request. 
The Venetian authorities gave up Bruno ; who was forwarded to Borne 
in January, 1593, 1 to meet the terrible doom which there awaited 
him. Never did the malignant destiny which has so often dogged 
the course of Free-thinkers provide a fate so atrocious and pitiless as 
that which thus befel Bruno. Never was the irony of existence more 
painfully exemplified. A martyr's death immediately following his 
trial, and only some months after his first apprehension, would no 
doubt have seemed a sufficiently bitter fate for an earnest truth- 
seeker like Bruno ; but in itself death had for him, as we shall find, 
no terrors. A few agonizing tortures at the stake, his ashes scattered 
to the four winds, the consequent commingling of his being, physical 
and mental, with the infinities of Nature and of God, which he re- 
garded as the highest destiny of a sentient creature, would have 
hardly caused him a momentary pang of regret. Something, as we 
know, he was willing to concede to his foes for the sake of the re- 
stricted liberty he had hitherto enjoyed. But, from the point of view 
of his speculations and aspirations, it is evident that Bruno must have 
had a surfeit of existence. He found it incompatible with the wild, 

1 He was committed to the Inquisition prison at Borne, on the 27th of Feb- 
ruary, 1598, as appears by a list of prisoners in the custody of the Holy Office, 
drawn up on the 5th of April, 1599. 8ee Roman Documents, collected by Prof. 
Berti, Copernico, etc., p. 224. 



288 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

passionate freedom, the unrestrained liberty of thought, feeling, and 
in some degree of action, on which alone he could bestow the name of 
freedom. His whole life had been a warfare with restriction : in his 
youth, moral and social ; in manhood, religious and philosophical. The 
limits of earth itself were too narrow for his soaring intellect. Death 
was but the deliverance from this enforced servitude — the commence- 
ment of a new and wider experience, the dawning of a new era of 
liberty. But incarceration for seven long years in dark and loathsome 
dungeons, for a man whose every breath was an aspiration for free- 
dom, whose every thought centred in her divine attributes, and whose 
every act was part of a life-long struggle to possess her, imparts to 
his lot a peculiar aspect of intense harshness and grim irony. No 
doubt history presents us with other examples of still longer imprison- 
ments; in which disciples of liberty have been immured in the Bastilles 
of religious and political tyranny for nearly their whole lives. The 
singular aggravation of Bruno's destiny lay in his overpowering 
passion for freedom, and in his conviction of her unlimited character. 
A prison may well be a cruel confinement to a man who is not im- 
patient of the ordinary res traits of human existence, but must be 
immeasurably more galling to one for whom earth itself is a mere 
prison cell. To a bird of moderate flight and aspiration the bounds 
of a cage will still seem intolerable, but to catch a skylark at the 
very highest point of its soaring and tuneful flight, to entrap an eagle 
in his lofty eyrie and immure it in a narrow, dark cage, would be a 
punishment more cruel than death. 

Over nearly the whole of that seven years' incarceration in the 
Inquisition prison at Borne, a darkness and stillness more profound 
than those of the grave are still suspended like a dreary funeral-pall. 
What Bruno's trials were ; how often his limbs were stretched on the 
rack, what other tortures, mental and physical, he was compelled to 
endure, what cunning and ruthless efforts were made by his gaolers to 
break down his indomitable spirit, to crush fully and Anally his 
irrepressible yearnings after freedom, to transform the free-thinker 
into the religious slave of a creed blasphemously called Christian, we 
shall never know. The long duration of his imprisonment * seems to 
imply that unusual pains were taken to convert a heresiarch whose 
fame was European, or at least to present him in his last hours in the 
penitent state of mind which would reflect so much lustre on his 
holy tormentors and be such an edifying spectacle to the faithful. 

1 Comp. the list of Inquisition prisoners above mentioned, from which it 
appears that Bruno was in 1599 the only prisoner in charge of the Roman In- 
quisition whose incarceration commenced in 1598. Cf. Berti, Copernico, etc., p. 
227. 



Giordano Bruno. 289 

His Venice recantation, if genuine and unforced, is a proof that 
Bruno was not insensible to some of the motive forces which the 
Inquisition knew how to bring to bear upon heretics, and it is quite 
conceivable that during his long incarceration at Borne his mind may 
have wavered occasionally under the debilitating effects of torture 
and privation on the one hand, or flattery and indulgence on the 
other ; but one thing at least is certain, these fluctuations were only 
temporary ; Bruno's general and final attitude of mind, as we shall 
see when we come to the last scenes of his life, was one of heroic and 
adamantine firmness. 

Meanwhile we may take advantage of Bruno's imprisonment to 
consider the general character of his philosophy, and the influence to 
be allotted to Skepticism, both in its origin and in the shape it finally 
appeared. But, as a necessary preliminary to this enquiry, it will be 
as well to cast a brief glance at a few of his works, which have an 
especial reference to our subject. 

The earliest of these and one of the first of his extant works is his 
comedy 72 Candtlajo. This drama marks the young skeptic at a 
stage of his intellectual development when he has discerned the utter 
vanity and falsehood of much that holds a high place in human con- 
viction, or established usages. Its chief characters represent the 
prevalent ignorance, pedantry, and superstition, with which he 
waged war for the greater part of his life ; nor unhappily is this the 
only particular in which it is a reflex of Bruno's age ; for the licence 
of its language and manners reminds us only too faithfully of features 
common to most of the literature of the Renaissance. But its main ^ 
interest centres in its unconscious portrayal of the mind of its author. / 
Thus the wild chaotic disorder depicted in its pages, indicates a mind 
in which principles and opinions of the most contradictory kind had 
made a battle-field for their fiercest struggles ; while the tout ensemble 
of the work, as well as the author's profession of faith in the introduc- 
tion, shows that he had already learnt to reconcile the antimonies of 
the universe, to neutralize its contradictions by means of juxtaposition 
and subordination, to merge varying elements in an all-inclusive one- 
ness, and by the fiery glow of his potent fancy to fuse the pettiness and 
limitations of finite things in an unbounded and inscrutable infinite. 
Thus he declares his philosophy in his dedication to La Signora Mor- 
gana — perhaps a real personage elevated to a noble and picturesque 
ideal, like the Beatrice of Dante or the Laura of Petrarca — ' Bear in N 
mind, Lady, my Credo, which I need not teach you : Time takes away \ 
everything, and gives everything. All things change, nothing is J 
annihilated. One thing only exists which is unchangeable. Only / 
the One is eternal and abides eternally one, the same, and identical. / 
vol. 1. u / 



( 



290 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

With this philosophy I enlarge my mind and magnify my intellect/ l 
Of still more importance for our purpose is the celebrated work 
Spaccio della Bestia Tidonfante. Few literary productions of the 
sixteenth century have raised more controversy than this. By some 
writers it has been held to be the original of the notorious but 
mythical work De Tribus Impostor ibus. The Triumphant Beast to 
be expelled, variously interpreted as Christianity or the Romish 
Church, is in reality Dogma, peripatetic and scholastic as well as 
religious. The aim of the work is mainly rationalistic and skeptical. 
Bruno declares war to the knife against unveracities of every kind. 
He would dethrone all authorities and powers which have usurped 
wrongful dominion over men, and replace them by more genial and 
humane duties. 

The plan of this remarkable work is this : — Jupiter, the chief 
of the Olympian court, is represented as an old man, who, having 
exhausted the pleasures and dissipations of youth, is now willing 
to reform. Having tired out the flesh he is desirous of living to 
the Spirit. Like the royal Jewish libertine, he is inclined to pro- 
nounce on all human delights and pursuits the verdict: 'Vanity 
of vanities, all is vanity.' To stimulate his new-born zeal for reforma- 
tion, he observes that mortals manifest a growing disinclination to 
render to himself and the different members of his court the worship 
they consider their due. One great obstacle to the execution of his 
resolve is the actual state of heaven itself. The different constellations 
and heavenly bodies are but records of the infamy, lust and ambition 
of the inhabitants of Olympus, not unfrequently of himself, its 
supreme lord. He resolves accordingly to sweep the heavens of 
these unworthy deities and hated memorials, and establish in their 
room those virtues and duties most conducive to the real welfare of 
j humanity. So far, Bruno's conception is symbolical of the general 
', movement we term the Renaissance, indeed it is signified in the very 
word. Jupiter, the symbol of humanity as well as its creator and 
\ ruler, was then undergoing a regenerating process. Older beliefs and 
convictions, the prolific brood of hierarchical ambition and popular 
ignorance were being, so far as reformers like Bruno had their way, 
gradually swept from the firmament of the human intellect. No 
longer did the ancient incense rise to heaven, no longer were sacri- 
fices' offered on the old altars, no longer was worship rendered to the 
tyrants and despots who had so long enslaved humanity. The 
millennium of liberty was drawing nigh. The Beast of Dogma once 
triumphant, but whose triumph had been purchased with the tears 
and groans of men, was now to be expelled. 

1 Op. Ital.y i. p. 5. 



Giordano Bruno. 291 

This reconstitution of the heavenly constellations 1 is made the 
subject of these dialogues, and the mode in which it is effected 
is related with a grotesque mixture of satire and humour which 
sometimes borders on blasphemy, and with a redundancy of metaphor, 
simile and allusion which is quite overwhelming. Jupiter proposes 
his reforms in an animated speech. He does not scruple to reproach 
his courtiers with their evil examples to men. * It is you,' he says, 
' who have offered to mortals the sight and example of misconduct 
extending to the most revolting vices. Yes, my friends, to perpetuate 
our shame we have rendered our dwelling the monument of our 
crimes. Instead of bestowing immortality on real virtues, on faith, 
justice and temperance, we have honoured by our preference all errors 
and villanies. We have consecrated scandals and sins both mortal 
and venial. What, in short, are the signs of the Zodiac ? What are 
the constellations, but striking evidences of our depravity and abase- 
ment ? ' He suggests an immediate and thorough reform. * Truth/ 
he says, ' if we return to her service will break the chains with 
which error has bound us. Let us then at once repent. Let us 
cleanse the heavens of every object which may recall our transgres- 
sions. Heaven is twofold. It is first within ourselves : let us 
extirpate our ill tendencies. It is also outside us: let us replace 
the images and statues which fill our apartments by other paintings 
and figures of an opposite kind.' The proposal is received with 
acclamations by the assembled gods and goddesses. A few days after 
this assembly another is convoked for the purpose of carrying out the 
resolutions of Olympus. 

The actual substitution of new virtues for ancient and venerable \ 
falsities gives rise to much discussion of a free sort. The process / 
takes some time, for it involves forty-eight changes. We need not 
recapitulate what is in effect only a dry list of names. To give an 
idea of the celestial reformation I will only say that for the Great 
Bear is substituted truth; for the Dragon, prudence; for Cepheus, 
wisdom ; for Pegasus, poetic inspiration ; for the Virgin, chastity ; 

1 It is possible that Bruno may have been indebted for his idea of the refor- 
mation of the heavens to the similar attempts of Bede and other theologians. 
They also proposed to change the names and arrangements of the constella- 
tions, e.g. they put St. Peter in the place of the Bam, St. Andrew instead of the 
Bull, etc. In more recent calendars David, Solomon, the Magi, and other New 
and Old Testament characters were placed in the heavens instead of the 
former constellations. Gf. Flammarion, Astronomical Myths, p. 57. Bat while 
their proposed reformation was ecclesiastical, Bruno's was philosophical and 
ethical. Conceding however as obvious the ethical significance of the Spaccio, 
the attempt to extort from it a formal system of moral teaching, such as that 
made by Dr. Hartung, must be pronounced extremely rash. 



292 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

for the Balance, equity, etc. The god Momus fittingly discharges the 
part of the skeptic, who is apparently as indifferent to the qualities 
of the new possessors as to those of the dispossessed provided only 
that virtue has her inherent supremacy conceded. For instance, the 
disposition of the Northern Crown is debated in the assembly. The 
occasion serves to evoke Bruno's most scathing sarcasm on the 
immorality of the Church. Minerva thinks that the Crown was in- 
tended for some valiant prince, and that Jupiter should assign it to 
the most deserving. 'Let it remain in heaven,' answers Jupiter, 
1 until it can become the recompense of an invincible hero who, armed 
with club and fire, may give to miserable Europe the peace it so 
earnestly desires, and break the numberless heads of a monster worse 
than that of Lernea, which diffuses through the veins of that un- 
happy continent the fatal poison of a heresy possessing a thousand 
diverse forms. 

4 It is enough/ rejoins Momus, ' to merit the Crown that this hero 
should put an find to the cowardly set of pedants who, without doing 
any good, claim to be reverenced as pious people and pleasing to God ; 
who say that to do good is right, and to do ill is wrong, but whatever 
good one does, or ill one avoids, one is no worthier nor more agreeable 
to God ; and that in order to become so nothing more is needed than 
to believe and hope according to their formulae and their catechism. 
Was there ever, ye gods ! a perversity more manifest ? ' 

* Certainly/ said Mercury, l he who is not aware of this does not 
know what villainy means ; for this is the mother of all vice. Were 
we to propound such a rule for men we should be hated worse than 
death/ 

1 The worst of it is,' adds Momus, ' that they dishonour us by saying 
this is the command of the gods ; nay, more, they stigmatize moral 
effects and fruits by entitling them defects and vices. But while 
they say no one works for them, and they labour for no one (for all 
their work consists in vilifying the works of others) they neverthe- 
less live by the works of those who have laboured for others as well 
as for themselves, who have erected for others churches and chapels, 
hospitals and alms' houses, colleges and universities. They are then, 
plainly, thieves ; they have usurped the goods due to others, i.e. to 
those who are really useful to the state because they give themselves 
to speculative sciences, to virtuous manners, to the love of the Res 
publica, to the maintenance of civil and social laws. Whereas if you 
listen to the former, they are occupied only with things invisible,' 
etc. 

Thus vigorously does Bruno castigate the immoral orthodoxy of 
Romanism, and the faith without works of Calvinism ; thus energetic- 



Giordano Bruno. 293 



j 



ally does he protest against the dogmatic presumption which both at 
Rome and Geneva was suffered to override the mos^ obvious and 
elementary dictates of justice and humanity ; and proves that in his 
earnest struggle for freedom he was by no means indifferent to the 
claims of morality, or to the requirements of social and political # life. 
As the common bane of these dogmatists is hatred of work and 
practice, they are finally condemned, on the suggestion of Mercury, to 
transmigrate into the bodies of asses. 

This is but one episode in the long process of the reformation of 
heaven. Another treats of the necessity of special providence as an 
attribute of the Infinite. Bruno also insists on his utilitarian basis \ 
of religion. The gods, he says, do not ask to be loved or feared J 
except as a benefit to humanity, and to prevent the vices which would 
otherwise destroy it. Hence religions and churches should be dis- 
tinguished neither by external symbols nor particular vestments, but/ 
by talents and virtues. Like Pomponazzi, Bruno makes no distinc-^ 
tion in kind between Christianity and other religions or divine laws J 
He arraigns one and all at the bar of reason, which is the supreme 
arbiter of the qualities and excellencies of each. At the same time 
he is, as we shall find, quite alive to the merits which, on the basis 
of reason, must be assigned to Christianity. It is impossible to 
enumerate in this brief sketch the varied points discussed in this 
remarkable work. The substantial identity of the principle of life 
in all its many forms is distinctly proclaimed ; and the correlated 
belief in transmigration is also affirmed. Occasionally, too, Bruno's 
intense passion for freedom seems to assert itself in questionable 
fotms, for he is inclined to pronounce in favour of polygamy as well 
as to advocate some species of socialism. But we must remember, in 
reading his works, that his impetuosity and impatience of restraint 
of every kind, as well as the crude appeal common to him with other 
free-thinkers of the time, to what appeared natural laws, lead him 
occasionally to propound as tentative and hasty opinions, ideas which 
he probably would not have entertained as practical propositions. 

I may add that Momus, the representative in the Spaccio of the 
skeptical rationalist, is finally commanded by Jupiter to be silent, and "\ 
to believe what he cannot comprehend. 

The wild guerilla warfare with dogma, superstition and ignorance, 
which forms the subject matter of the work now considered, is con- 
tinued in Bruno's Cabala del Cavallo Pegasco, which maybe regarded 
as its appendix. This is a treatise on the different species of ignor- 
ance or Asinity, whether dogmatic and pedantic, or purely skeptical 
and unenquiring. It thus resembles Erasmus's well-known Encomium 
MorioB, and its particular object, like the De Docta Ignorant ia of 



294 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissa?ice. 

Cardinal de Cusa, is to stimulate men to free and enlightened enquiry. 
Of all Bruno's writings this appears to me one of the most character- 
istic. It has not the exuberant and far-reaching imagination, the 
f wild ebullient recklessness of the Spaccio, but it possesses that 
■ indefinable blending of philosophy and humour, of serious gravity 
\ and sardonic mockery, of light pleasantry and bitter sarcasm, which 
Wakes our skeptic the Lucian of modern philosophy and his Italian 
works unique in its Literature. Bruno's position as a moderate 

eeptic is indicated in this work by his including under the same 
tegory of Asinity, the complete negation of the mystic, the unenquir- 
ing suspense of the Pyrrhonist, and the devout ignorance of the 
(^religionist. It is on the last, as the special epidemic of his age, that 
£jis satire and ridicule fall most heavily. He brings together the 
chief places in the Old and New Testaments, as well as other ancient 
authors, in which asses are mentioned, and finds the various uses to 
which the animal has been put, together with its well-known attri- 
butes, symbolical of the qualities of its human relatives. His satirical 
conclusion is that Asinity comprehends the chief human duty. To it 
is assigned Divine favour, both in this world and in the next. The 
terrible energy which marks his satire is shown in his conclusion of 
the Preliminary Declamation, addressed ' to the curious, devout and 
pious reader,' of which I translate a few sentences : — 

* There is not, there is not> I say, a better mirror placed before 
human eyes than Asinity and the ass ; or which demonstrates more 
clearly the duty of that man who, labouring in the vineyard of the 
Lord, looks for the reward of the final judgment, the enjoyment of 
the heavenly supper, the repose which follows this transitory life. 
No plan is better or even equal to lead, guide and conduct us with 
oil possible convenience to eternal salvation than the power of that 
true wisdom approved by the Divine voice. On the other hand, 
nothing is more effective to engulf us in the abyss of Tartarus than 
philosophical and rational speculations, which born of the senses, 
grow with the discursive faculty, and ripen in the developed human 
intellect. Try, try therefore to be asses all ye who are men ; and you 
who are already asses, study, plan and endeavour always to proceed 
from good to better, so that you may arrive at that end and dignity 
which is attained, not by knowledge and effort however great, but by 
faith ; and which is lost, not by ignorance and misdoing however enor- 
mous, but by unbelief. If by this conduct you are found written in 
the book of life x you will obtain grace in the Church militant and 

1 It is on this reductio ad absurdum that the stress of Bruno's irony must be 
regarded as placed. The words in the original are ' Se cosi vi disporrete, *e tali 
sarete, e talmente vi governarete, vi trovarete scritti net libro de la vita, 1 etc., etc 



Giordano Bruno. 295 

glory in the Church triumphant, in which God lives and reigns 
through all ages. Amen.' 1 

In the same spirit of fierce cynical mockery, he erects Asinity into 
a saint or goddess, 8 and sings her praises in a sonnet, of which I here 
attempt a free translation : — 

sainted Asinity. Ignorance most holy ! 
Stupidity most sacred ! Devotion most profound 
Thou alone can'st make us learned, good and sound, 
While human thought and study are void of value wholly. 

Little availeth the search that men so fully 
Employ by every art or science-operation, 
Little availeth their sky-ward contemplation, 
To gain the heavenly seat which is thy object solely. 

What boots then, ye curious, your persistent exploration ? 
The wish to learn the secret of nature's laws and ways, 
If the stars be water, earth, or fiery exhalation ? 
Holy Asinity despises wisdom's rays. 

Folded hands and knees form her sole occupation, 
Expecting from Providence the luck of better days, 
All passes, nothing stays, 
Save the fruition of that eternal peace, 
Which God will give her after her decease.* 

If these lines evince a spirit of Mephistophilean mockery, we must 
remember that the asinine piety, against which Bruno inveighs so 
vehemently, was that which opposed itself to all culture and enlighten- 
ment, as well as to every rational and humane type of religion. In the 
Sturm und drang of unwisdom and intolerance which then raged, some 
justification undoubtedly existed for a violence which at first sight 
might appear directed against every form of piety without distinction. 
We are too apt to forget in our reverence for religion, that a conviction 

1 Op. Ital., ii. 264, Ed. Wagner; vol. ii. p. 572, Ed. de Lagarde. 

2 It is possible that this apotheosis of Asinity was suggested to Bruno (it 

was at least fully justified) by the celebration of asinine virtues that took 

place during the well-known * Festival of Pools. 1 The following verse, e.g. is 

taken from the ' Processional ' sung daring the march of the ass and its motley 

attendants to the grand altar in the cathedral of Sens. The irony is as bitter 

as in Bruno's sonnet : 

( Aurum de Arabia 

* Thus et myrrham de Saba 

Tulit in ecclesia 

Virtus asinaria.' 1 

See on this subject, Le Bas, Allemagne, i. p. 486. 
8 Op. Ital., ii. 257, Ed. Wagner ; p. 564, de Lagarde. 



( 



296 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

just as profound of the sacredness and divine character of his object 
of worship, may animate the searcher after truth, so that scientific 
and philosophical enquiry will to him assume the aspect of a grave, 
imperious, religious duty. This was undoubtedly Bruno's opinion. 
An opposition to knowledge and intellectual progress, to religious 
and mental freedom, no matter on what sanctions present or future 
it was attempted to be based, was nothing else in his eyes but a 
monstrous perversion of human duty, to be attacked and exposed 
without hesitation or remorse. These extracts also point out how 
vigorously Bruno protested against the excessive other-worldliness 
of the middle ages, when the plea of a future world was put forth to 
excuse the grossest negligence of duty in this ; and when supposed 
service to God was impiously regarded as a complete exoneration 
from obvious obligation to man. 

(But though Bruno is thus severe on religious ignorance, he also 
lashes the self-satisfied disclaimer of knowledge which marks the 
acquiescent and negative skeptic — the agnostic of our own day. 
With his own insatiable eagerness in every species of knowledge- 
pursuit, he cannot comprehend a point of view which appears to him 
absolute indifference to all progress and possible attainment. Skeptics 
r therefore are, in this sense, just as much asses as the stolidly ignorant 
\ among religious people. Their only distinction is, that they are 
asses of another species. Thus mystical scepticism or pure negation 
is a young ass, given to stray and wander. Pyrrhonic skepticism is 
an ass, like the more famous one of Buridanus, which stands firmly 
planted between two roads in the most abject perplexity as to which 
it shall take, 1 while Christian asinity is represented by the ass and 
colt in the well-known narrative of the Gospels. Bruno is clear- 
sighted enough to perceive that the skepticism of the mystic, and the 
voluntary ignorance of the pietist, are really akin. His treatment of 









( Pyrrhonism is, however, both summary and superficial. The utmost 
he can allege against it is its supposed indifference to progress. 2 
Could Bruno have known not only that a disinclination to dogmatize 
might advance step by step with progressive science, but that the 
Greek word skeptic denotes especially the persistent enquirer, he 

1 Op. Ital., ii. 272, ' la seconda par un' asina, che sta fitta tra due vie, dal 
mezzo di quali mai si parte, non possendosi risolvere, per quale de le due piu 
tosto debba muovere i passi.' 

* Cf . De Lamp. Comb. Lull., Opera Lulli, p. 782, when after speaking of a true 
confession of ignorance, which is not incompatible with the fullest and most 
anxious search after truth, he proceeds : ' Mitto eos qui veritatem in densissima 
caligine consistentem definientes, tunc S9 maxime cognovisse, et culmen atti- 
gisse philosophies existimabant cum suam ignorantiam non ignorare sibi 
viderentur.' 



Giordano Bruno. 297 

might have found occasion to commend it here, as in effect he does 
in others of his works. 

Besides his criticism of religious and skeptical Asinity, this work 
also contains some strictures on dogmatic Asinity in the form then j 
most preponderant and obstructive, viz. Peripateticism. One of the ' 
interlocutors in the conversation is a certain Onorius, whose soul in 
past times has undergone a variety of transformations. Originally 
it animated the body of a Theban gardener's ass, next it became the 
living principle of a horse like Pegasus, and had to labour in the 
service of Apollo and his court on Mount Parnassus. Afterwards it 
transmigrated into the body of Aristotle. In this form he set himself 
up as a reformer of science — an enterprise so much the more easy 
since Socrates was dead, Plato proscribed, and he alone was left like 
a one-eyed among the blind. He drew up random reports of the 
opinions of the ancients in a childish and unworthy language. He 
taught under the portico of the Lyceum at Athens, styled himself the 
prince of Peripatetics, etc. 

Thus the ass, concludes Bruno, bears sway not only in the schools. 
Everywhere we see it installed, in courts and tribunals, in churches 
and chapels, as well as in academies and universities. It invades 
every career and every occupation of the human mind. One might say 
that there are more asses among men than men among asses, and 
that the greater part of mankind are members of the university, 
citizens of the State of Asinity. The ass resembles that soul of the 
world which animates and sustains the universe, and which is every- 
where important and everywhere worshipped. It is the Triumphant 
Beast of Dogma in veritable flesh and bone. Hence is explained why 
the spiritual and moral ass is everywhere as much esteemed as the 
physical and material ass is appreciated by particular communities. 
This is why the ideal and cabalistic ass, that animal of all others 
most noble, the symbol and type of intellectual perfection, deserves 
to have a place in the sky not far from truth, and to become a con- 
stellation. 

But though the three works to which I have thus briefly alluded 
represent Bruno's most free-thinking productions, they by no means 
exhaust the subject of his skepticism. We have no record of any 
external impulse or prompting which first started our skeptic on the 
path of free thought. His early surroundings at Nola and Naples 
were of a free kind, as we have already observed. But the chief 
predisposing cause we must probably assign to his own analytical 
intellect and vigorous imagination combined with the strong indepen- 
dence of character, without which no mental excellencies are of much 
avail. He seems to have learnt early in life to distrust the powers 



298 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance, 

of his senses, and to compare the suggestions of imagination with the 
* outcome of his actual experience. When a child, he was accustomed 
to survey from the humble house of his parents at the foot of Mount 
Cicala the black top and barren ridge of Vesuvius. To his childish 
imagination this appeared the final limit of the world, and it seemed 
impossible that the smoking and burning mountain should be enli- 
vened by trees or fruits. What was his surprise on afterwards 
visiting the environs of Vesuvius to find the country full of orchards, 
vineyards and gardens ; to use his own words, — 

1 Attonitus novitate meos tunc arguo primum 
Mendaces oculos.' 

* Cosi,' says Professor Fiorentino, 1 recounting the anecdote, ' escla- 
mava il poeta e nell* animo giovanile entrava la prima volta il dubbio.' 
Alas! the disillusionizing that Bruno underwent on that occasion 
was but the first of a long series of corrections of the imagination by 
experience, all tending however in a contrary direction to this first 
dream of childish fancy — not the transmutation of the distant black 
and arid mountain region into a country of vineyards and gardens, 
but the shadowy prospect of beauty and fertility changed into actual 
blackness and barrenness, into smoke and devastating fire. Later in 

(life we find that Bruno did not carry his distrust of sense-impressions to 
the extreme which characterizes some of his fellow-skeptics. The 
senses, he thinks, must be confined to their own peculiar jurisdiction : 
they only inform us of matters within their sphere. They are merely 

E'nstruments of the understanding. Hence the contradiction assumed 
exist between the senses and the reason is only a vain objection 
f Pyrrhonism. The contradiction is only apparent. When e.g. our 
eyes assure us that the sun moves and the earth is immovable, they 
bear witness only of what they see, and are so far right. But when 
i the eyes of the mind affirm that it is the earth that revolves round 
vthe sun, they testify what they know, and within their sphere they 
are also correct. Of course the inference from this reasoning is that 
f sense impressions are unreliable until their evidence is confirmed by 
I the intellect, and therefore the distinction between Bruno and other 
y skeptics is on this point only one of degree. His own tendency to 
idealistic construction would also have the effect of suggesting a 
distrust of sense-deliverances. Indeed, his language on this subject 
is worthy of a disciple of Plato or Plotinos, for he compares sense- 
perception to an eye surveying from a dark prison the colours and 
forms of things as if through holes and crannies. 8 This union of 

1 B. Telesio, ossia studi storici su V idea delta Natura net Rusorgimento Italiano, 
vol. ii. p. 49. 

2 ( Sensus est oculus in carcere tenebrarum, rerum colores et superficiem 



Giordano Bruno. 299 

transcendentalism and skepticism Bruno may have derived from his 1 
master, the Cardinal di Cusa, and the author of the work De Docta ' 
Ignorantia, in whom it forms the leading characteristic. Doubt is j 
therefore, with Bruno, the starting-point of all reasoning, and of all 
philosophy. This is affirmed again and again in various parts of his 
works, as well as exemplified in his own career; of which skepticism 
is the first authentic recorded fact we possess, whatever mystical 
certainties and Lullian conclusions he attained in after life. How- 
ever much the abstractions of the Infinite and the One satisfied for 
the time his intellect, and soothed his emotional needs, there was 
a prior stage of doubt, and doubt of a sweeping and comprehensive 
character. He who wishes to philosophize, says Bruno, must begin 
by doubting of all things. 1 Nay, he must continue in this path, for 
destruction must go hand in hand with construction, analysis with 
synthesis ; at least until reason, the free light from heaven, sees her 
path clear and open before her. But this undoubted prerogative of 
reason to be the higher tribunal for the adjudication of truth must 
not be taken to imply that all her apparent dictates and judgments 
must be accepted without reservation. For oftentimes they may be 
the result of bias or imperfect information, or an undue stress on a 
merely external authority. They can only be accepted as indisput- 
ably true when each rational judgment is consistent, both with itself 
and with other things which stand in correlation with it. 8 Still, \ 
with all his large distrust of sense perceptions, and his more qualified 
distrust of reason, Bruno was by no means a complete skeptic. His 
doubt, like that of Descartes and so many others, is but the requisite ; 
preliminary to conviction. What his opinion of Pyrrhonism, regard- 
ing it as immovable suspense, was, we have already seen ; so defined 
it was a mere tissue of puerilities worthy of a place in the same 
category with the philosopher's stone and the quadrature of the circle. 
Although truth was hard to come by, he did not doubt (on a priori 
grounds), either the possibility of finding it or its reality when found. . 
He did not distrust the human mind considered apart from its false 
methods and unworthy prepossessions. In its origin it was divine ; 
in its nature and tendencies, it was part of the Infinite itself; 

veluti per cancellos et foramina, prospiciens, Batio tanquam per fenestram 
lumen a sole derivans, et ad solem repercussum, quemadmodum in oorpore 
lunee speculatur.' — De Triplici Minimo, Frankfort, 1581, p. 7. 

1 'Qui philosophari concupiscit, de omnibus principio dubitans non prius 
de altera contradictionis parte definiat quam altercantes audierit,' etc. — De 
Triplici Minimo, p. 8. 

2 ' Non ex auditu, fama, multitudine, longeevitate, titulis et ornatu, Bed de 
constantis sibi atque rebus doctrinae vigore, sed de rationis lumine veritate 
inspicua judicet et definiat. 1 — De Trip, Min., p. 8. 



300 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 



. . home 
( final 



therefore, in its own uncorrupted instincts and yearnings, in its own 
unbiassed judgments and wise determinations, it was the veritable 
home of truth. I need not add that, like that of all idealists, Bruno's 
conception of truth makes it a pure intuitional and personal entity, 
though allied with and forming part of the universal and infinite truth 
which embraces all others as the whole comprehends its parts. The 

f goal at which he arrives is therefore faith, not that of tradition and 
external authority, which he stigmatizes as that most vile habit of 

/credulity (vilissima consuetudo credendi), but the personal conviction 

( which comes of the full and free exercise of a man's own intellect. 
f But the real extent and significance of Bruno's methodical skepti- 
cism we shall only be able adequately to appreciate by a cursory 
glance at his systematic thought , 

Although I agree in the ordinary estimate which connects Bruno's 
Idealism with Copernicus's Astronomy, I think it is easy to exag- 
gerate the influence he thence derived. Under any hypothesis of 
the relation of earth and heavens, Bruno must have excogitated a 

^mode of thought whose tendencies would be towards the Infinite. 
Common intellects, with suggestions of infinity on every side, are only 
conscious of limitation. Others, placed in the narrowest environment 
will infer even from surroundings so unfavourable the absolute and 
unbounded. Had Bruno been born and brought up in a prison cell 
he would have deduced infinity from his narrow confines. The 
innate vigour of his imagination, and his impatience of all restraints, 
would have rendered any ideal limits short of the illimitable 
insufferably tedious and oppressive. But this being granted, we may 
allow that his metaphysical interpretation of Nature, first suggested 
perhaps by the inexhaustible fulness and extent of mere terrestrial 
phenomena, received a firm foundation and renewed stimulus from 
Copernicus's discoveries. As Bartholmess well notes, his theology 
might afterwards be called by the title of Derham's Book, ' Astro- 
Theology.' The main article of his creed was a primary and immedi- 
ate inference from the new astronomy, i.e. The Infinite. This was the 
point of view from which he contemplated everything, heaven, earth, 
humanity, religion. This was the standard by which he assessed 
their value, the approximation to which constituted the measure of 

i their truth and validity. When the conviction burst on him that 
truth, religion and morality had their roots in the Infinite and 
Eternal, when he began to weary of the limits of earth, — the 
bounded and partial character of the traditional verities most widely 
embraced by his fellow-men, — when he stretched forth the wings 
of imagination and spiritual yearning to worlds which filled the 
measureless expanse above him and in comparison with which our 



Giordano Bruno. 301 

globe is but a tiny speck, we are not told, bat he describes the event 
as comparable to the escape of a man from prison. These are his 
words : — 

* Away from the prison-cell narrow and gloomy, 
Where so many years error closely hath bound me, 
Leaving the fetters and chains which around me 
My foe's cruel hand hath entwined to entomb me.' 

And in other lines, which we may accept as his own description of 
his mental career, he says : — 

* Securely to the air my pinions I extend, 

— Fearless of all barriers feigned by men of old 
The heavens I freely cleave — to the Infinite I tend. 

* So leaving this, to other worlds my upward flight I wend, 
^Ethereal fields I penetrate, with dauntless heart and bold 
And leave behind what others deem, a prospect without end.' l 

As Bruno thus inferred the Infinite from Nature, especially in the 
larger acceptation which modern astronomy had imparted to the 
term, so the qualities with which he endued it were similarly 
derived from the contents of Nature's boundlessness and variety. 
Ghiefest among these was the Union of Contraries. This is in truth, 
the key to Bruno's system. In its very idea the Infinite will be 
complex and differentiated, not simple and uniform. This com- 
plexity Bruno discerned everywhere. It was the common attribute 
both of mind and matter, the chief quality of the primary substance 
underlying both. Discernible in the Infinite of Nature, it also 
characterized the Infinite of human reason. What to some thinkers 
might seem contradictions and antagonisms mutually destructive of 
each other, he regarded only as different musical notes, which com- 
bined make up a broad and rich harmony (symphonia). In every- 
thing existed its own contrary which its development must inevit- 
ably generate and bring into clear and obvious manifestation. There 
is therefore, as you may observe, a close approximation in Bruno's 
idealism to modern German transcendentalism, which accounts for 
the peculiar fascination he exercised on all its great luminaries from 
Jacobi to Hegel. 8 

1 ' . . . L' ale sicure a F aria porgo 
Ne temo intoppo di cristallo o vetro 
Ma fendo i cieli, e a F Infinite m' ergo 

£ mentre dal mio globo agli altri sorgo 
E per F etereo campo oltre penetro 
Quel ch' altri lungi vede, lascio al tergo. 1 
1 This aspect of Bruno's teaching has been so often commented on, both by 
his biographers and by historians of philosophy, that it seems needless to give 



302 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

It is instructive to observe how this composite nature of the 
Infinite falls in with Bruno's skepticism. The apparent warfare of 
varying principles and laws in Nature, 1 the progress by antagonism, 
is only the outward reflexion of the divine motions and impulses, 
doubts and opinions he found within his own being. By means of 
this perpetual differentiation no wise man is satisfied with a static or 
immoveable condition. The more vigorous his intellectual develop- 
ment, the more conscious is he of the conflict of contradictions of 
which it consists, the less disturbed by the contemplation of their 
adverse relations, and the more skill and experience does he acquire 
in neutralizing their varying aspects by merging them in wider 
generalizations. Man in a state of ignorance has no perception of 
contrariety, 2 a fact which is signified by the prominent part which 
division occupies in every system of logic, and which is symbolized 
by the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Hence also it comes that 
ignorance is the mother of sensual felicity ; and that, as Solomon says, 
1 He that increaseth wisdom increaseth sorrow.' 

Another correlative form of the idea of Infinity, Bruno denotes by 
the metaphysical concept of the One. Like the early Greek thinkers, 
he proclaimed as the issue of his investigations, ( The whole is one.' 
( Oneness/ verified the term of existence, as ( the Infinite ' character- 
ized its immeasurable variety and extent, as { the Absolute,' concluded 
all its limitations and conditions. Here again the thought was 
suggested by Bruno's Nature-investigations in combination with his 
powerful imagination. The convergence of multifarious natural opera- 
tions in the production of a single result is a fact frequently dwelt 
upon by evidential theology as a proof of the one mind or will which 
governs the universe. Bruno does not directly employ the argument 
for monotheistic purposes, though indirectly his reasoning points in 
the same direction. Oneness, like the Infinite, the Absolute, is merely- 
a final term of his philosophy, the goal of his speculations. By its 
\ means he is able to overcome incongruities in the history of philo- 

a list of such authorities, most of which are easily accessible. Carriere has 
some useful remarks on the subject in his Philosophische Weltanschauung, etc., 
p. 470, etc., etc. See also Brunhofer's Gk Bruno's Wdtanxchauung, pp. 151-154. 

1 Op. Ital., i. p. 276. 

1 Comp. Spaventa (Professor), Saggi di critica, etc, vol. i ., Napoli, 1867. 
' Per la composizione della cose awiene, che nessuno si appaga del suo stato, 
eccetto qualche insensato e stolto, il quale ha poca o nulla apprensione del suo 
male ; gode 1' essere presente senza temer del futuro, gioisce di quel che e e per 
quello in che si trova e non rimorso o cura di quel che e o pud essere ; e in fine 
non ha senso della contrarieta, la quale e figurata per Palbero della scienza 
del bene e del male.* — P. 184. 



Giordano Bruno. 303 

sophy, as well as to harmonize dissonances in the investigation of 
Nature. Preceding philosophers as, e.g. Aristotle, had asserted the 
operation of diverse general principles; as for instance, form and 
matter, and left them as unreconciled discrepancies in the universe. 1 
Bruno felt himself compelled to find a concept, or generalization, 
capable of embracing both. In this higher stage of thought, matter 
and form, cause and principle (i.e. according to Bruno the extraneous 
and inherent cause) are completely identical. Hence the knowledge \ 
of that supreme unity is the object of all philosophy, and of every true J 
science of Nature. He describes the extent, power and excellence of / 
the Oneness in the enthusiastic terms which he lavishes on all his 
ideal abstractions : 2 — 

' There is only one absolute possibility, one only reality, one only 
activity. Whether it be form or soul, matter or body, it is but one — ^ 
one only Being, one sole existence. Unity is therefore perfection, its \ 
character is impossibility of being comprehended, in other words to 
possess neither limit, bound, nor definitive determination. The One 
is infinite and immense, and therefore immoveable ; it cannot change - 
its place, because outside of it there is no space; it is not engendered, 
because all existence is only its own existence; it cannot perish, 
because it can neither pass into nor transform itself into anything 
else. It cannot increase nor diminish, because the Infinite is 
susceptible neither of augmentation nor of diminution. It is liable 
to alteration neither from without, because nothing exists outside of 
it, nor from within, because it is at once and the same time every- 
thing it can become. Its harmony is an eternal harmony since it is 
unity itself. . . . Because it is self-identical, it cannot form two 
beings ; it has not two kinds of existence, because it has not two 
modes of being; it has not different parts, for it is not composite. It 
is in the same manner, the whole and parts, all and one, limited and 
unlimited, formal and informal, matter and void, animate and inani- 
mate. ... In the universe, solid body does not differ from a 
mathematical point, nor the centre from the circumference, nor the 
finite from the infinite, nor the infinitely great from the infinitely 
little. The Universe is only a centre, or rather its centre is every- 
where, its circumference nowhere. We therefore do well to say that 
Jupiter fills all things, remains in each part of the world, is the 
centre of every being, one in the whole and by whom all is one. 
Individuals who continually change do not assume a new existence, 
but only another mode of being ; they are all they can be, but not all 
in reality and at one time. The disposition of matter for example 

1 Cf. Fiorentino, B. TeUsio, etc., vol. ii. p. 64. 

1 See De La Causa Principio el Uno (Op. Ital., ii. p. 261, etc.) passim. 



/ 



304 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

which determines the form of a horse cannot determine at the same 
time the form of a man or of a plant. But all individuals, though in 
different ways, participate in one and the same being. The universe, 
on the other hand, comprises not only all beings, but all modes of 
being ; it is, it comprehends, all modification of the substance which 
in itself remains always the same. It is in this sense that Solomon 
has said, " There is nothing new under the sun." ' 

The Absolute is another favourite abstraction by which Bruno 
endeavours to express a totality of being which is opposed to every 
limit, and which excludes every particular or individual character- 
istic. Though applied sometimes to the supreme energy dominating \ 
Nature, Bruno generally employs it of the unconditional Being of 
God, which makes the ascription of names, definitions and attributes, 
as conceptions or entities external to His Being, almost an act of im- / 
piety. / 

It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that these abstractions, / 
though they form final determinations in Bruno's creed, were held by 
him as articles of belief within the limits of his knowledge ozr 
reason. They merely indicated tendencies pointing in the direction 
of truth, the truth itself being both unattainable and incomprehen- 
sible. That he found not only complete satisfaction in them as such, 
but contemplated their excellencies with a fervent enthusiasm he can 
scarce find words to express, assimilates therefore his position to that 
of so many skeptics who, distrustful of attaining truth, still persist in 
searching for it. If therefore Bruno found rest in his Idealism it 
was not the death-like repose of the dogmatist, it partook rather of the 
placidly energising ataraxia of the skeptic. Indeed, complete ideal- 
ism can never be more than a condition of unstable equilibrium. 

' The mental rest or peace won from 
The cold and formless absolute, 1 

will generally be as devoid of vital warmth and definite form as 
itself, nor can it well be otherwise ; for however carefully we con- 
struct our idealization, however complete appears the series of 
abstractions by which we ascend to the Infinite or Absolute, however 
diligently we merge like Bruno all contradictions and incongruities 
in the unifying concept of the One, or going to the extreme conclusion 
— the vanishing point of idealism, however determinately we assert 
the identity of thought and being, there will always lurk a suspicion 
that our processes are not so irrefragable as we would willingly 
believe them. Nominalism will perhaps suggest that we have been 
performing an ingenious hocus pocus, and deluding ourselves with 
inane and barren verbosities. Experience will obtrude the possi- 



X 



Giordano Bruno. 305 

bility that thought and being are not altogether identical, and that 
the mental condition which affirms the identity is more or less arti- 
ficial and unreal ; at least there will occur an occasional distrust of \ 
conclusions which, however valuable or convenient, stand so far aloof 
from the petty affairs, the sensible restrictions, the ordinary atti- 
tude of mind in which the daily life of most of us is passed. In 
other words, there will occur a philosophical counterpart to the 
religious conflict described by St. Paul, in which ( the flesh lusteth 
against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.' The degree of 
strength and coherence which metaphysical abstractions possess 
depends mainly on the vigour of imagination employed in their 
excogitation. Hence every scheme of transcendentalism contains in 
itself germs of skepticism, possibly destined sooner or later to come to 
ripeness. This truth is amply attested both by individual cases > and 
by the cycles, and reactions, observable in the history of philosophy. 
Bruno again and again confesses that his abstractions are ineompre- ; 
hensible. We cannot tell wha.t the Infinite is in itself, we can only 
discern how the different aspects and modes of the Finite seem to 
converge like the different radii of an illimitable circle in the Infinite. 
The One is equally unknowable ; all our experience being related to the 
complexity and variety of which it is composed. As to the Absolute, 
to attempt to attain it were as fatuous as to run round the circum- 
ference of a circle in order to find the centre. 1 ' Our reason,' he says, 
1 is incapable of comprehending that faculty which is at the same 
time absolutely active and absolutely passive, it cannot conceive how 
one thing may be all, nor how, as ultimate Reality, it is all. AH our 
knowledge reposes on analogies and relations ; and cannot apply itself 
except in a tentative and imperfect manner, to what is incomparable, 
immeasurable and unique. We have no eye for a light so high, for 
an abyss so profound ; and Holy Scripture joining the two extremes, says 
sublimely : The darkness is no darkness to Thee, but the night is as 
clear as the day. The darkness and light to Thee are both alike.' * 

On the other hand, whatever may be said of the danger pertaining 
to metaphysical abstractions — especially as tending to generate vague- \ 
ness of conception, a disposition to accept words for things, etc., I / 
do not think any philosophic mind would question their imperative 
character as universal concepts, or would deny their special useful- 
ness in the case of intellects like Bruno's. Brought forcefully into 
contact with the antinomies of the universe, finding them in his specu- 
lations, whether as objective discrepancies forcing themselves on his 
consciousness from without, or as contradictions evolved subjectively 

1 Op. ItaL, ii. p. 343. Comp. Fiorentino, B. Telesio, ii. p. 60. 
* Op. Ital., i. p. 263. B&rtholm&ss, ii. p. 140. 
VOL. I. X 



306 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

by the natural operations of his own intellect, — coming in contact with 
them in religion, in politics, in social life — it was surely advantageous 
to find, or at any rate assume, a centre in which all these various 
» differences finally converged ; to discover a metaphysical ark which 
might carry him safely over the boisterous waves and conflicting 
currents of human beliefs and opinions. In the Infinite, the Absolute, 
and the One, as into the measureless ocean wherein the numberless 
myriads of rivers and streams in every country and from every 
direction are finally absorbed and lost, he was able to concentrate the 
different attributes of Deity, the varying aspects of Nature, the mani- 
fold and diverse conclusions of the human reason. Here Liberty and 
Necessity abandoned their ancient enmity and became reconciled. 
Here divine justice and mercy, immutable law and personal volition, 
became united. Here evil was no longer the irreconcilable opponent 
of good ; it was rather its privation, or possibly its necessary com- 
plement. Here the Finite was not the contradiction, but a part, 
infinitesimal though it might be, of the Infinite. The space occupied 
by a single human being or the insect crawling at his feet, formed a 
portion of Immensity. The smallest division of time was an in- 
/ dissoluble fraction of eternity. 1 In a word, the temple of the Infinite, 
with Bruno for its high priest, witnessed the union of many meta- 
physical and ethical couples which at first sight might seem, if not 
wholly incompatible, at least very ill-assorted. 

But leaving these abstractions it is time to enquire what are the 
exact relations they bear (1) to God, (2) to Nature. 

As to the first, they are merely designations of the Supreme Being. 
They serve to express not so much His attributes as His essence — 
\ His only conceivable existence. He alone is the Infinite, the One, and 
the Absolute — the universal existence filling all space and all time, 
manifesting itself in all motion, life and activity — the cause, principle 
and sustainer of Nature, nay the spiritual expression or definition of 
Nature itself. In theology, as in philosophy and physical science, 
Bruno's conceptions are all infinite, illimitable. A personal Deity 
extramundane and apart from Nature, he could not understand. All 
the attributes of Deity in his Theodicee are as infinite and compre- 
hensive as Deity itself — nay, they are only varying aspects — denomi- 
nations of the self-same universal Essence. 

It was because the ordinary definition of the Trinity involved the 
idea of division in the one indissoluble unity of God, that Bruno re- 
fused to accept it in that sense, and adopted a more metaphysical 
method of explaining it. ' The supreme Being is the substance of the 
universe, the pure essence of all life and reality, the source of all 

1 Comp. Bartholmess, ii. 854. 



Giordano Bruno. 



307 



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being, the force of all forces, the virtue of all virtues. ... If 

~* all existence, Divinity is 

basis both of Nature and of 

auses, the ruling principle 

g also perfect He is every- 

ty and activity, are inse- 

ived separately and apart 

arnal cause of all things, 

,intains them in life. By 

. activity the existence and 

ale life, one immense and 

nation, the supreme Being 

nal cause of all that exists. 

us the universal cause and 

•eason, in other words, the 

uces all. Being also the 

I differentiates everything 

the soul of the world, the 

every form of existence. 

activity in every part of 

totality, His omnipresence 

wonderful character of His 

or outside of all, this is His ' 

; essence should be above 

be superior or external to 

lould be divorced from the 

Beings constitutes clearly 

unity of all beings. The 

vast empire are shown by 

This perfection consists in 

tout creation attain actual 

From the infinitely varied 

ented in creation, we must 

one and absolutely simple. 







It is rather by means 01 tnis mm vim unity, this identity with Him- 
self, that He forms part of all created things. It is because He does 
not Himself cease to exist, that existence enjoys perpetuity and life. 



1 * Profundius naturae uniuscujusque fund amentum est Deus.' — Op. Lat., p. 
473. Comp. Op. Ital., i. p. 130. 

8 ' Natura naturans. Deus in rebus, in creaturis expressus ' — ' in Natura ex 
vi mentis ordinatricis.' — Op. Lat., p. 47. 

* Mens super omnia Deus est, Mens insita omnibus Natura, Mens omnia per- 
vadens ratio.' — De Iriplici Jiin., p. 7. 



*\ 



08 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 



The unity, identity and simplicity of the Supreme Being is blended 
with His truth and His goodness. His truth is of such a nature, 
that if it did not exist nothing would be true. The nearer any being 
approximates to the Infinite the more truth he has. The same rule 
holds good of his goodness, whether moral or natural. Everything 
good that Nature possesses comes from God. Whatsoever is good 
morally and spiritually has been inspired or established by God. God 
is the legislator of the physical and moral law of the universe because 
He is the author of all the principles which control both force and 
intelligence. By virtue of His truth and goodness God is more than 
the Creator of the world — He is its judge and its benefactor. 

His wisdom and knowledge are not less than His truth and good- 
ness. Not only does He behold all things, but He makes all visible 
things to be seen. He is therefore both the eye which discerns all 
things, and the light which illumines all eyes and all objects. Here 
Bruno touches the philosophy both of Malebranclie and Berkeley, and 
gives expression to one of the profound thoughts of the Old Testa- 
ment, ' In Thy light shall we see light/ 

The will of God, i.e. His providence, which is inseparable from His 
prescience, conducts and directs all thoughts to the best possible end. 
The will of a Being who is almighty and omniscient triumphs over 
>all things. One effect of the Divine will is the revelation of it we 
have in Nature. Other effects are the beauty and harmony which 
mark creation. By its very perfection the will of God is at once 
necessity and absolute liberty, in the same way that in every moral 
man liberty and necessity are identical. 1 Thus the essence of God 
comprehends all things, without itself being capable of being com- 
prehended. It includes all duration and all space. It is the end and 
term of all things. It is both at the base and the summit of the scale 
of beings without the power of self-definition or determination. The 
source and plenitude of all perfections, He cannot be adequately con- 
ceived by beings as imperfect as ourselves. God cannot properly be 
named ; or rather, He ought to receive every name which can express 
supreme grandeur and superiority. The designation most suitable 
to Him is ' the Being of Baings.' God is { He who is/ or * That which 
is ' (qui est vel quod est), a possible reminiscence, it may be added, 
of the ' I am that I am ' of the third chapter of Exodus. 

As God is the theological expression of the Infinite and the One, 
so the concrete form of these abstractions is found in Nature. Nature 
was Bruno's school from which he drew his physics and metaphysics : 
his conclusions from the seen, and his speculations on the unseen. 
From its extent, especially as revealed by the new astronomy, he 

1 Comp. Spaventa, op. cit., p. 145. 



Giordano Bruno. 309 

inferred the Infinite. From the universality and variety of its 
activity he deduced the immanence and omnipresence of Divine 
energy. From the unity of design pervading its multifarious opera- 
tions, from the oneness and identity of the substance which assumed 
so many forms, he concluded the oneness of its Author. Nature was r 
therefore regarded by him as the incarnation or materialization of the 
Divine Being. To Bruno, as to Raymund of Sabieude, it was, in its 
own province, a complete Revelation, the first unfolding of the Divine 
mind. Not only does it reveal its Creator, but it is the only mode by 
which His existence and attributes can become manifest to men. It is 
in and by Nature that God recognizes His own being and perfection, 
and by the same means only are we able to comprehend Him. It \ 
should be added that Bruno is not always consistent in his mota- J 
physical interpretation of Nature ; sometimes he employs the tran- / 
scendentalism of the Neo-Platonists, according to which God may be 
conceived without Nature, though Nature is inconceivable without God. 
At other times, and most generally, he adopts the pure naturalism of , 
Spinoza, which limits the divinity by the bounds of actual existence. 
But whatever the point of view, Bruno is an ardent worshipper of 
Nature. In this respect he yields to none of the votaries of naturalism 
that belong to the Renaissance. He describes her charms in the 
amorous language a passionate lover might employ of his mistress. 
Professor Fiorentino * is so affected by Bruno's ardour that he appears 
ready to share it : * Questa vaga donna, bella, nuda, schietta raggiante, 
amorosa, carezzovole e la philosophia per Giordano Bruno, qual 
meraviglia s' ei se ne sente profondamente innamorato ? ' But it is 
not Nature in her static, materialistic aspects with which Bruno is __ 
enamoured. In that sense indeed she had for him no existence. It 
is Nature, moving, energizing, fluctuating, changing, instinct with life 
and energy, that is the object of Bruno's adoration. This was the 
' Anima Mundi,' or Nature-soul, which as we have seen he identified 
with the third person of the Trinity. For if on the one hand Nature 
is an instrument of Divine Providence, she is also a living power, a 
creative faculty standing in the same relation to inert matter as a 
sculptor does to his marble, or a painter to his canvas. Hence the 
visible creation is only an image, an iddlon of that incomprehensible 
spirit which fills and animates all things. Bruno thus shares with 
his compatriots Telesio, Vanini and Campanella the idea of Nature as 
a colossal animal, a living being of infinite extent and most elaborate 
organization, which engenders and nourishes, and in turn destroys 
and devours, all subordinate beings — the common source of life and 
of death and of every other movement and energy in creation. 

1 B. Telesio, op. cit., p. 48. 



3io The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Such is Nature in her totality grasped, as Bruno loved to grasp all 
f such concepts, from the point of view of the Infinite. What Nature 
| is in detail in the relation of single parts to the enormous and com- 
\ posite whole he tells us in his Doctrine of Monads. These spiritual 
atoms stand in the same relation to the Infinite as a material atom 
stands to the physical universe. They constitute principles of con- 
tinuity which underlie all transitory existence — the minute indestruct- 
ible Bases on which all individual beings are founded, and of which 
they are so many superstructures and developments. The monad is 
the centre of all activity in living beings, and of mere existence in 
inanimate things. Without itself possessing those attributes, it is 
the basis of everything that has movement, figure or extension. By 
its self-multiplication and division, by its countlessly diverse co-ordina- 
tions and associations, it becomes the actual cause of all the varied, 
processes and phenomena we see in Nature. The analogy on whicfy 
Bruno founds and by which he explains his Monad Theory is thje 
property of Numbers. 1 "The unit must needs enter into every possible 
combination of number, as its initial basis, its final constituent and i/ts 
absolute measure. Similarly into all the different products of Nature, 
endlessly various as they are, enters the monad as the eternal unit of 
each. All beings, in whatever scale of existence, are only different 
aggregates of monads, and all natural processes, simple or complex, 
are only varied transformations and modifications of these priijnary 
units, just as all the operations of arithmetic start from the numerical 
unit. There will of course be a hierarchy among monads sis in 
numbers. Highly endowed and complex beings such as manf will 
consist of a far greater number of monads than beings of a /lower 
order. Every species of being may be represented by its own /lowest 
determination, which thereby becomes its own special monad, /just as 
in arithmetic the number ten is taken as the basis or unit/ of the 
decimal system. Throughout the whole of creation, entering into 
every process and every form of existence, runs this chain of /monads, 
as a permanent and living principle, ultimately ending where Lit begins 
with the Supreme Being. / 

The root-thought of Bruno's monad-speculations is easily plerceived. 
He makes the law and order of numbers subserve the sam^fe purpose 
in his scheme of philosophy as Spinoza's universal substance does in 
his own system; the same office in point of fact which numbers 
have continually discharged in the history of philosophy from the 
time of Pythagoras downwards. It is his principle of cohesion and 

1 *Numeru8 est accidens monad is, et monas est essentia miitieri: sic com- 
positio accidit atomo, et atom us est essentia compositi/ etc. — De Trip, Mai., 
etc., p. 10. 



Giordano Bruno. 311 

uniformity applied to the details of nature-products and processes : 
hence it is only a crude mode of explaining such truths as are 
expressed by the correlation and conservation of forces, the perpetuity 
of energy, the laws of causation, gravitation, chemical affinity, and 
other formulas of the same kind with which modern science abounds. 
Perhaps we may go even further, and may regard the return to atoms 
and molecules which distinguishes some departments of modern 
thought, as a reproduction to a certain extent of such theories as 
Bruno's monads; nor is it difficult to foresee that a still greater 
scope for speculations of a similar kind will inevitably mark the 
science of the future. The actual practical value of Bruno's theories 
is of course nil ; but the monads both of his own philosophy and that 
of Leibnitz, their descendants, will always retain historical interest, 
as connecting the speculations of Demokritus and the Greek atomists 
with those of scientists of our own day. 

But, besides the order of natural processes, Bruno's monads help 
to explain, at least to illustrate, the unifying or merging all contra- 
rieties in an absolute oneness. Just as infinite number comprehends 
every conceivable numerical quantity, no matter how divergent from 
each other, so does the One include and involve every imaginable 
discrepancy and contradiction ; however great their mutual differences. 
By this means, as we have observed, Nature loses all her antinomies ; 
corruption and production, progress and regress, death and life, good 
and evil, beauty and ugliness, perfection and imperfection, form com- 
ponent elements, unit-sums of varying amounts, of the same absolute 
innumerable whole. As also all numbers form a series leading from 
one to infinity, so do the processes of Nature, in harmony with our 
own instincts, tend towards the Infinite: Bruno's conception thus/ 
harmonizing with St. Paul's words, ' The whole creation groaneth and 
travaileth in pain together.' 

That these speculations point in the direction of Pantheism is clear; 
but that Bruno was an undoubted Pantheist is not so obvious. 
Nothing is easier than to discover in the ideas of comprehensive and 
imaginative thinkers when applied to the infinitive existence and 
omnipresent energy of the Supreme Being, traces of Pantheism ; as 
we have already noticed. Bruno's metaphysical intellect and poetic 
imagination rendered him peculiarly liable to excesses of this kind. 
The very attempt to set bounds to the Infinite, to bring it, in other 
words, within the limits of our own narrow and finite existence, would 
have seemed to him both false and impious, — false as contravening the 
witness afforded by Nature of its Author's infinity ; impious as placing 
a limit, for our personal convenience, to the illimitable. Hence many 
are the passages in his works in which he seems to confound the 



3 1 2 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Creator with His creation — the material with the efficient cause — the 
living force with its physical manifestation. In the same general 
direction of Pantheism point also his views of the necessity of 
creation, his definition of the Creator as ' Naturizing nature ' (natura 
naturans), his doctrine of monads, and of the ' Anima mundi.' On the 
other hand must be taken into account the mode in which he fre- 
quently describes the Deity as possessing a separate Being and 
personality, distinct from the universe of His creation, terming him 
the Creator, the mind and orderer of all things. On a complete view 
of the question, we may pronounce the evidence for Bruno's Pan- 
theism doubtful, and this is the conclusion to which the most 
impartial of his biographers and critics have also arrived. 

But though I admit Bruno's Pantheistic leanings, and his fre- 
quently expressed affection for the Divine which exists in Nature, 
neither this nor the cognate abstractions of the Infinite and Absolute, 
so far as they express definite and final attainment, are the supreme 
objects of his passionate love. Of all of these he admits the inherent 
incomprehensibility. Like Lessing, he prefers search for truth to 
discovered truth ; or as he is a poet almost more than a philosopher, 
we may compare him to Sir John Suckling and his preference for 
desire as superior to fruition. In this respect Bruno is, as I have 
' already hinted, a complete skeptic ; as one who loves and searches for 
; what he is aware he cannot attain. Bruno's mistress, like that of so 
many platonizing thinkers, is ( intellectual Beauty' — the passion rather 
than its object, or the passion transformed and elevated to an object. 1 
He describes her charms with an ardent tenderness and ecstatic 
rapture which a material and human object of passion could hardly 
have inspired. The work in which he does this is called Oli eroici 
furorij and we may take it, I think, as a philosophical 'sursum 
corda ' ! the point where his idealism becomes sublimated and con- 
secrated into a cultus. M. Bartholmess has well observed how 
Bruno attempted in this work to bring about a revolution in Italian 
ideas respecting love. The poetry of the Troubadours, of Dante 
and Petrarca, had, while eliminating, or at least refining, the more 
sensual elements of the earthly passion, exalted it to an extravagant 
and absurd excess. Treading in the steps of Plato and Plotinus, 
Bruno wished to divert the sentiment in another direction, and to 
another object — not the human form, with its attributes of perishable- 
ness and mortality, ought to be the object of the wise man's affections; 
but divine beauty and spiritual wisdom, which is invisible, unchange- 
able, and imperishable, nay, which is but one aspect of God Himself. 

1 See this especially brought out in the commentary to his De Immeruo: 
Works, national edition, vol. i. p. 208. 



Giordano Bruno. 313 

Dearer than any earthly mistress to the impassioned lover ought to 
be Divine wisdom to the thinker. Not that he can expect to gain 
fall possession of the object of his passion. He is aware that his 
knowledge, his powers, are finite, though his desires may be infinite. 
Sofia, like truth, is to be courted and pursued, never fully achieved. 
Still some progress may be made by the earnest lover: there are 
degrees of even infinity and corresponding powers of those who pursue 
it. Man pursuing Divine wisdom can approximate to what he cannot 
reach. Though he cannot fully apprehend God, he can gradually 
become more God-like ; though he cannot grasp truth, he can become 
truthful ; though he may not possess supreme wisdom, he may become 
wiser. Thus the career of the intellectual man becomes an enthu- 
siasm of devotion ; an appetite, a longing, a perpetual yearning and 
striving for Divine wisdom ; and Bruno employs all the images and 
parables of spiritual and mystic longing he can find in holy writ or 
elsewhere to illustrate the power and sublimity of his sacred pro- 
pension. We may here observe that Bruno, like Pascal and Hirnhaym 
passes, at least he evinces a strong desire to pass, from skepticism 
to mysticism, from the attitude of the searcher to the ecstatic rapture 
of the intuitionist. It is indeed evident that this was the direction 
which his intellect had come to take during the latter part of his 
life ; and which his Lullian tendencies so clearly exemplify ; though 
I do not think it correct to say with Hitter, that Bruno passes 
through skepticism and enquiry into religious faith, in the common 
acceptation of the term. On the other hand, the point of importance 
in Bruno's mystic tendencies, and in his devotion to supreme wisdom, 
is that he thereby finds an object of worship which is not divorced 
from human reason and enquiry; and therefore different from the 
common faith both of Catholics and Protestants. A religious Belief 
and worship into which reason did not enter as its primary con- 
stituent, which did not embrace to the fullest extent the results of 
human learning and investigation, was one Bruno could not under- 
stand. We have already noticed the bitter contempt he displays 
for the holy Asinity, which in his opinion had seduced mankind, and 
withdrawn them from their true allegiance to the God of wisdom 
and truth. The enthusiastic adoration of Sophia (wisdom) formed 
the opposite pole in his religious philosophy to Ass-worship. The 
Infinite he learnt to adore in the sublime temple of Nature, whose 
holy of holies it occupied with its awful and illimitable presence ; and 
he bestowed upon it all the powers of his reason and intelligence, as 
well as the love and worship of his religious sentiment. 

Reading Bruno's Eroicifurori, one is forcibly reminded of Schleier- 
macher's glowing description of Spinoza as a * God-intoxicated man ' : 



314 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

{ Ihn durchdrang der hohe Weltgeist; das Unendliche war seia 
Anfang und sein Ende, das Universum seine einzige und ewige Liebo ; 
in heiliger Unschuld und tiefer Demnth spiegelte er sich in der ewiger 
Welt : Voller Religion war er und voll heiligen Geistes ; und darum 
steht er audi da allein und unereicht, Meister in seiner Kunst, aber 
erhaben liber die profane Zunft, ohne Jiinger und ohne Burgerrecht ! ' 
With a trifling modification of one or two terms, this magnificent 
eulogy is as applicable to Bruno as to Spinoza. Indeed, of the two 
I think the author of Gli eroici furori is a few stages further 
advanced in God-intoxication than even Spinoza. That a man capable 
of conceiving such a noble and elevated object for human affections, 
of being permeated by such a divine passion, 1 should have actually 
suffered death as an atheist, must be pronounced one of the most 
monstrous perversions of justice which defile the pages of history. 
Unhappily, it is not a solitary instance of the irony which occasionally 
overrules human destinies, and with diabolical humour prescribes 
slavery as the lot of lovers of liberty, compulsory falsehood or the 
stake as the destiny of lovers of truth ; as well as persecution and 
death as an atheist for the God-intoxicated enthusiast. 2 

The relation which Bruno's idealism bears to his free-thought, and 
his vehement vindication of the rights of the human conscience, both 
public and private, is a distinguishing feature of his speculations. 
Man's reason being an integral part of the universal reason, partakes 
also of its qualities ; it is therefore both necessary and absolute. As 
such it forms the true basis both of morality and of speculative 
freedom. Bruno thus anticipates Descartes in laying stress on the 
reason, or consciousness, as the supreme principle of knowledge. 
Both reason as the intellectual, and conscience as the ethical, organ of 
truth are free and autonomous, partaking as they do of the unre- 
stricted liberty of their Creator. Indeed, the knower and the thing 
known do not exist, except so far as God knows them. All clearness, 
all evidence emanates from Him. Senses, conscience, reflexion, reason, 
all the modes and stages of intelligence, the different branches of 
knowledge, all the efforts of mind and of wisdom, need that divine 

1 Few things in Bruno's works are more remarkable than the depth and 
sincerity of his God-passion. The title which next to Philcsophus he most 
affected is Theophilus (lover of God). From his point of view no doubt the 
terms are synonymous. 

* ( Bruno e stato bruciato vivo a Roma come sprezzatore della religione e di 
Dio. Oramai sappiamo che cosa importano questo accuse, e possiamo dire 
anche noi con tutta ragione. u Eh! Prole dolor/ res eo jam pervenit ut qui 
assertt fatentur, se Dei ideam non habere, et Dtum non nisi per res creatas (quorum 
cauaas ignorant) cognoscere, non erubescant philosophos atheismi accusant"' — Spa- 
venta, Saggi, p. 167, quoting Spinoza, Tract. Theo. Pol., om op., ii. p. 82. 



Giordano Bruno. 315 

light, which, itself inaccessible like the sun, still irradiates all objects 
within its luminous sphere. It is because every perception, every 
knowledge, whether of the senses or the mind, has God for its first 
source, for its principal organ, that man ought to rely implicitly upon 
verifiable evidence. God does not deceive, nor can He be deceived. 
He cannot deceive because he is unable to will deception, His will being 
as perfect as His knowledge. Truth therefore, so far as attainable, is 
manifested by enquiry and research ; and all reasonable methods of 
pursuing it are to be followed freely and fearlessly, with the con- 
viction that whatever deficiency may arise from the inevitable limita- 
tions of our senses and knowledge, is not to be compared with the 
dense ignorance which must result from their entire disuse. 

Bruno therefore concludes that the human mind, by its native 
instincts and operations, is made for knowledge and for freedom. No 
bounds indeed can be rightly placed to the speculative and imagina- 
tive powers of man. In this respect the microcosm is a reflection of 
the macrocosm, sharing its most peculiar attribute of infinity. Hence 
any repression of research is an indignity offered, through man, to the 
Highest Reason which he shares. He lays it down that thought, by its 
own free spiritual nature, cannot be the object of punitive justice ; for 
if sincere it can be no offence to God or to human law. Thus personal, 
and in a considerable degree, political freedom, is the outcome, the 
dictate, of his own mental constitution. The limitless character of 
his thoughts and speculations he transferred, as far as possible, to 
his practical and political life. The process no doubt was, or might 
have been, somewhat dangerous ; but political liberty in the sixteenth 
century was by no means sufficiently advanced to run the risk of 
encountering such dangers. Nor was Bruno unaware that the social 
and political condition of men necessitated some limitations ; though 
to every concession in this direction he is careful to add the proviso 
that the philosophical and religious freedom of the individual should 
be as much as possible respected. 

Having thus brought before you a few of the salient points in the 
philosophy of this most remarkable thinker, it is time to sum up this 
part of my subject. 

Bruno was one of those gigantic intellects, those myriad-minded 
men whose multifarious erudition, eclectic methods, and many-sided 
sympathies render a summary of their operation very difficult, if not 
impossible. Like a survey of a widely-extended landscape, or an 
enormous building, the conspectus will only be a piecing, more or less 
rude and imperfect, of separate and fragmentary points of view. 
Employing his own illustration of the infinite powers and feelings of 
the human mind, we might almost say, of his own intellect, that its 



r 

c 



( 



3 1 6 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

centre is everywhere, its circumference nowhere. A child of the 
sixteenth century, his speculations comprehend and his sympathies 
embrace methods of thought current in ancient times on the one hand, 
and in our own day on the other. The immense range of his studies 
is proved by the fact that there is hardly an author, certainly not 
a subject known in his day, to which he does not seem to have paid 
attention, and on which he has not thrown some light. 

1. To us his chief interest arises from his skepticism. The nature 
and extent of this I have already glanced at. As in the case of so 
many other philosophical enquirers it was, perhaps, more in intent than 
reality, limited and methodical. Bruno doubted to know. Skepticism 
was the foundation of his philosophy and his science. Surrounded by 
despotic powers and principles, philosophical, religious, and political, 
which demanded a blind submission from every man, Bruno boldly 
protested against them all. They were so many external restric- 
tions and antiquated prejudices which possessed no inherent validity 
except so far as they received the approval of a man's own con- 
science. Hence he opposed himself to Peripateticism, to scholasti- 
cism, to mediaeval science, and Papal Christianity. He even carries 
I his opposition to the ruling convictions of his time further than his 
^-own system of thought appears altogether to warrant. For although 
e.g. he himself places such stress on abstractions, he attacks the 
abstract ideas of scholastic logic in the true spirit of nominalistic 
criticism. The truth moreover that he finally attains by his idealism 
is so far imperfect and indemonstrable that his highest knowledge 
consists in a direction rather than a goal, an effort than an achieve- 
ment, a perpetual struggle than a definite crowning victory. He also 
shares with Galileo, 1 and other thinkers of the time, the conviction 
of a distinct separation between theology and philosophy, and is so 
far a maintainor of double truth. Indeed this doctrine could have 
presented no difficulty to a thinker who regarded truth as essentially 
multiple, though its various forms and aspects finally met and were 
united in the absolute one. 

Nor can it be said that the final merging of his own idealism 
in the mystic cabbala of Raymund Lulli imparted the conviction of 
absolute and demonstrable truth for which he had been searching all 
his life. Notwithstanding his stress on that philosophy so signally 
manifested by making it the subject of so many of his works, not- 

1 Comp. Berti, II Procenso originate di Galileo GalU*, p. xxx. « Egli (Galileo) 
con ragioni alle quali, nulla si potrebbe oggi ancora aggiungere, so9tiene 
nettamente non solo la convenienza, ma la necessita di separare la scienza 
dalla religione, e di dare nelle dispute il primo luogo non gia alle parole della 
Scrittura, ma alle osservazioni ed alle dimostrazioni.' 



Giordano Bruno. 317 

withstanding his ingenious manipulations of numbers, alphabets, 
abstractions, physical and hyperphysical entities, notwithstanding 
the claim of Lulli to have discovered a key to human omniscience, the 
ultimate feeling concerning it in Bruno's mind was imperfect attain- 
ment. Like his fellow pilgrims through the darkness and mist of 
occult science, Agrippa and Vanini, Bruno also arrives at the con- 
clusion that metaphysics cannot yield that perfect conviction of truth 
which its earnest seeker desiderates. He was too keen-sighted not 
to perceive that whatever advantage metaphysical terms and ab- 
stractions might have as ideal comprehensions of diverse realities, 
the standpoint was essentially imaginative and individual, and that 
the prof under the research, the more recondite and unattainable be- 
came its object. There is a remarkable passage 1 near the conclusion 
of his chief Lullian treatise in which he announces his agreement 
with the De Vanitate Scientiarum of Agrippa concerning Lulli's art. 
In universal propositions he says, no one but a fool would think he 
attained perfect knowledge after all his study. Even Aristotle, who 
of all philosophers attributed most power to the human intellect, 
admitted that in the ultimate substances and differentiae of things 
the eye of our understanding was not otherwise than the eye of a 
night-bird when directed to the sun. At the same time he repudi- 
ates the skepticism which remains satisfied with the admission of its 
ignorance. He merely claims for Lulli's art that whatever is possible 
in all sciences by way of generalization, is acquired by it as by the 
cause which in all things is most general. 8 

An interesting question, especially connected with Bruno's untimely 
end, is the relation of his skepticism to Papal Christianity. It is 
generally assumed to have been oue of open hostility ; it would be 
more truly designated as one of divergency. As a rule Bruno was 
more un- Christian than anti-Christian. No doubt there were aspects 
of Papal ecclesiasticism to which he was thoroughly opposed, e.g. its 
compulsory dogmatic spirit with which he contended throughout his 
life. The crucifix thrust in his face by those who were piling burn- 
ing faggots around him, was a melancholy symbol of the manner in 

1 De Lampade Combinatoria Lulliana, Lulli, Opera, p. 782. 'In universis 
etenim nullus nisi plusquam mediocriter stultus veram et non vanitati similem 
poet omne studium se nactum esse noverit scientiam; quod sane et is qui 
maxime omnium philoeophorum humano ingenio tribuisse videtur Aristoteles 
testatur, ubi rerum substantias ultimasque differentiae, innominabiles imper- 
ceptibilesque dicit et oculum intelligentiffi nostra ad manifestissima se habere 
naturae haud alitor quam nocturne avis oculos ad lumen solis.' 

* 'Quod ergo per omnes scientias habere tandem possibile est, per artem 
istam utpoti per causam maxime generalem acquiritur.' — Lulli, op. loc cit., p. 
732. 



3 1 8 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

which Christianity had always been presented for his acceptance and 
adoration — a harsh, bitter, narrow, ignorant bigotry, administered 
often by men who were incarnations of the worst vices that could 
disgrace humanity. Nor did Protestantism, as he had experienced it, 
at Geneva and Marburg, represent the religion of Christ in a much 
more inviting guise. Some idea of Christianity, conjoined with toler- 
ance and a respect for intellectual freedom, he may have derived from 
his sojourn at Wittenberg; though even here the phenomenon was 
only evanescent. There is no trace in his writings of any formal 
attempt to extract the pure gold of Christ's words and life from the 
dross by which human ambition had surrounded it ; and yet there are 
intimations in his interrogatory before the Inquisition that this aspect 
of Christianity had not altogether escaped him. When asked, e.g. 
what he considered necessary to salvation, his reply was : l Faith, 
hope, and charity,' an answer which, with its implication of the 
superior merits of charity, must have sounded satirical on such an 
occasion. His statement, adduced by Mocenigo, of the corruption of 
the Church, compared with its primitive purity ; and the coercive me- 
thods then employed in propagating Christianity, contrasted with the 
persuasive and rational modes first used for the purpose ; his expressed 
estimate of the evidential value of miracles, viz. that the higher 
attestation of Christ's religion comes from the precepts of the Gospel ; 
all point in the direction of an attempt to distinguish the divine 
elements in Christianity from the human incrustations in which they 
had become embedded. 1 But after making due allowance for these 
intimations, we must admit that Bruno's conception of Christianity — 
indeed his view of every religion, is one-sided and imperfect. There 
was a predisposition, closely connected with his own mental tenden- 
cies, to make religion entirely synonymous with intellectual culture, 

1 Further light on this important point may be expected from the hoped-for 
publication of a number of Bruno's unpublished works in the possession of 
Mr. Abraham de Noroff. In a communication which this gentleman has made 
to Signor Berti, and which the latter has inserted among his collection of 
Bruno documents, he says : * Nous appallons 1 'attention du monde savant sur 
les passages du MS. qui levent completement l'accusation calomnieuse qui a 
ete portee contre le oeldbre philosophe italien d'avoir professe des dogmes 
antichretiens, et la transmigration des ames. Les passages consigned sur les 
ff. 28. v. et. 48 v. ainsi que les propositions emises dans de livre : De triginta 
Statuarum (pp. 114-121), qui adoptent la rix&ation, qui s'appuyent sur les 
paroles du Christ (dont le tres saint nom est trace par la main de Bruno en 
leltres majuscules), et enfin qui parlent de l'immaterialile et de la substan- 
tiality de Tame, protestent hautement contre les farouches ennemis de Bruno, 
auxquels sans doute il applique les paroks du Christ citees a la f. 48. v.: Hie 
dies vestra et potestas tenebrarvmS— Berti, Document^ etc., p. 112. 



Giordano Bruno. 319 

instead of regarding moral discipline and spiritual feeling as its 
necessary concomitants. Just as there are men in our day who think 
Christ should have foretold the latest development of modern science, 
so Christianity, to have been perfect in Bruno's eyes, ought to have 
announced the Copornican Astronomy instead, perhaps, of the Sermon 
on the Mount. Christianity had too much of the passive stolidity of 
the age, and not enough of the daring and imagination of the winged 
Pegasus, to satisfy Bruno's aspirations. Religion as the exponent of 
the Eternal Mind ought to possess an infinite, necessary, and univer- 
sal character, 1 whereas Christianity, in its traditional development, 
seemed to him to have a merely local and partial aim. Sacchetti, in 
one of his novels, 9 relates how, in the Dante craze at Ravenna in the 
fourteenth century, a certain youth took the burning wax-lights from 
before the crucifix on the altar and plated them before the tomb of 
the poet. Bruno also wished to remove the wax-lights designed to do 
honour to Christianity, and to place them on the altar he had erected to 
the Infinite and the One, the all-filling, all-animating Creator of the 
universe. Hence he had no objection to those speculative doctrines of 
Christianity which were allied to the Infinite, or were susceptible of a 
metaphysical interpretation. Indeed, we have in Bruno a foreshadow- 
ing of the peculiar interpretation of Christian dogma which was so 
common in the first half of this century among German idealists, the 
disciples of Schelling, Hegel and Feuerbach. He had, as we have seen, 
no objection to a Trinity in which the second Person was the Wisdom 
perpetually emanating from its Divine source, and the third Person 
was the Anima Mundi,orsoul of the universe, ' the Lord and Giver of 
Life ' (though Bruno would have denied the personality) of the Nicene 
Creed. He would not have disputed the Incarnation interpreted as 
a spiritual process. 8 Immortality and a future life fell in completely 
with his general scheme of thought provided he was not compelled 
to admit a bodily resurrection, and that some scope for transmigra- 
tion, physical and mental, were conceded him. On the whole view 
of the question we may say that there is* nothing in his mode of 
thought directly opposed to the first pure form of Christianity, what- 
ever may be said of his attitude to the Papal caricature of it extant 
in his time. We must remember, in estimating Bruno's relation to 

1 Spaventa, op. cit., p. 168. 

* Novelle, cxxi. Ed. Barbara, ii. p. 481. 

* Cf. Berti, p. 856. It was perhaps the materialistic mode of explaining it 
that suggested to Bruno his illustration of it by the Centaur, though such 
illustrations and analogies were in his time, as well as subsequently, often 
employed to explain the doctrines of Christianity Comp. Bishop Huet's 
hardly less profane illustrations of the Incarnation: Dem. Evan. Ed. vi., p. 466. 



c 



V 



320 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

the Church, that he openly admitted the fact of his hostility. In his 
interrogatory before the Inquisition he candidly acknowledges that 
he had cherished, from his earliest years, doctrines and opinions irre- 
concileable with those of the Church ; and all that he pleads for in 
his defence is that this divergence of thought and sentiment did not 
constitute that fatal breach with dogmatic Christianity which his 
enemies supposed. He emphatically disclaimed all desire to see 
Christianity supplanted by any other religious faith ; and confessed 
his desire to see it allied closely with metaphysics. The conception 
of a universal religion, like his own Infinite, in which all churches 
and creeds, everything local and temporary should be merged in the 
Absolute, in which, to use St. Paul's words, 'Even Christ Himself 
shall be subject to -Him that put all things under Him, that God may 
be all in all,' no doubt swept occasionally before his eyes, but only as 
a vague, misty dream of the future * — the apocalypse of an idealistic 
thinker. Bruno's imagination was, we know, fond of soaring beyond 
both realities and possibilities ; and due allowance should be made for 
this fact when we meet, as we often do in his writings, schemes of 
thought-ideals of human progress, and vague vistas of futurity on 
which he himself would have laid no stress as assured convictions or 
articles of faith. Nor should we forget another trait of his intellect 
which, if neglected, might involve us in considerable misapprehension 
of his character. I mean the daring and impetuous nature of his 
speculations, which continually seduces him beyond the limits of his 
real intellectual and religious standpoint. 

2. In that curious letter of Bruno's to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, 
which I noticed, he styles himself among other titles, ' The awakener 
of sleeping minds.' * Few designations would better express the 
main influence which Bruno exercised on his time; but it was an 
effect produced more by his rationalism and eclecticism than by his 



1 The passages in Bruno's works in which a dislike to all positive religions 

seems manifested, are evidently based on the condition of their resemblance, 

more or less, to the spurious Christianity of his time. Hence when he says of 

these: — 

( Humanam turbant pacem sceclique qnietem 

Extinguunt mentis luoem, neque moribus prosunt,' 

he was clearly drawing from his own experience of Romanism. A tolerant 
religion, which inculcated as primary articles in its creed, peace, culture, and 
morality, he would doubtless have cordially approved. Bruno's anticipations 
of a regenerated world are thus conveyed in his last published work : — 

* Novi Telluris faciem nihilominus esse 
Fulgentem, vere sanctum et venerabile sidus.' 

De TVipLici minimo et mensura, p. 2. 
* ' Dormitantiam animorum excubitor.' — Comp. Bartholmess, L p. 97, note 2. 




Giordano Bruno. 321 

skeptical tendencies, so far as these influences are independent of 
each other. It was as a Free-thinker that Bruno was especially 
known to his contemporaries — one who carried bold and unscrupulous 
speculation into every province of knowledge, not as a mere denier 
of accepted doctrines. He is therefore an illustration of the truth 
that breadth of culture, eclecticism and toleration will subserve the . . 
same purpose as negation in undermining any narrow system of// 
dogma. Indeed of the two it is the more effective and lasting" 
method: the true opposite to dogma being not negation, which may 
be just as dogmatic as assertion, but latitudinarianism, freedom of 
research, and full toleration for all sincere and rationally attained 
conclusions. The intellect, according to Bruno, should be free and un- 
bound. When it thus exercised its powers, its conclusions attained a 
moral coercion which he truly pronounces irresistible. ' Our opinions,' - 
he said, ( do not depend on ourselves : evidence, the force of circum- 
stances, the reason, the will of God impose them on us. If no man 
therefore thinks what he wishes nor as he wishes, no one has the 
right of compelling another to think as he does. Every man ought 
to tolerate with patience, nay with indulgence, the beliefs of his 
neighbour. Toleration, that natural faith graven upon all well-born 
hearts, the fruit of the enlightened reason, is an indispensable re- 
quirement of logic, as well as a precept of morality and religion.' 
Noble words ! we may add, addressed to an intolerant age. Bruno 
was unfortunately more alive to the advantages of toleration than 
sedulous in its practice. We have already seen how vehement his 
antipathy occasionally became to modes of thought and feeling which 
he declined or was unable to approve. 

As a contrast to the Free-thought of Montaigne and his followers, 
we must note in passing Bruno's opposition to Humanism. He per- 
ceived that whatever servioes classical learning had, in time past, 
conferred on the Renaissanoe when it was a new movement, it now 
threatened to become in some cases an intellectual despotism. A 
tyrant was to him a tyrant, even though he bad commenced his 
career as tribune of the people. Not only the thought but even the 
language of modern Europe was becoming subjected to the sway of 
antiquity. Aristotle and Plato ruled men's minds, Cicero their 
tongues, Seneca and the poets their feelings. Bruno was indignant 
with a subserviency which threatened to become abject servility 
He pours his invective like a lava-flood over the grammarian, the 
pedant, and the purist: speaking of the vanity of these apes of the 
ancients, he says of one of them, ' Though he is only an individual, 
he alone, thanks to his superiority, is equal to all men. Should he 
happen to laugh he calls himself Demokritus, should he weep he is 

vol. 1. Y 



322 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

Heraklitus, when he argues he is Aristotle, when he constructs his 
chimeras he takes the name of Plato, when he loudly harangues he 
styles himself Demosthenes, when he construes a phrase of Virgil 
he becomes Maro himself. By turns he chides Achilles, approves 
^neas, blames Hector, exclaims against Pyrrhus, laments with 
Priam, accuses Turnus, excuses Dido, praises Achates ; in a word, 
nihil divinum a se alienum putat. 1 For the same reason Bruno jeers 
at compositions such as Montaigne's Essays, in which the dicta of 
ancient ages and poets are joined together like patchwork, or he 
describes them as a mixed salad of proverbs, of Greek and Latin 
phrases. He also employs the inversion of the common saying, viz. 
that antiquity is the youth of the world, and the present its old age. 
What did antiquity know of the extension of the earth and the 
heavens by Columbus and Copernicus, of the advances science was 
then making ? Antiquity had, according to Bruno, served its pur- 
pose; philosophers must now turn their faces to new worlds, and 
expend their energies on new objects. 

3. But with all his stress on the new astronomy and his anticipa- 
tion of the triumphs of modern science, Bruno has little claim to be 
regarded as a physical scientist. The bent of his genius was alto- 
gether-metaphysical. He had little capacity, and less taste, for the 
slow, plodding methods of induction. His eager spirit and compre- 
hensive intellect grasped intuitively the inference from any given 
fact or series of observations, whether of Nature or humanity, and 
his fervid imagination immediately deduced the extremest possible 
consequences from such a conclusion. In this respect the contrast 
so frequently pointed out between Bruno and Galileo is very remark- 
able. While the latter was thoroughly imbued by the spirit of modern 
scientific methods, Bruno was mainly the idealist, the theoriser and 
the poet. Both accepted the Copernican system, for instance ; but 
whiio Galileo was busily exploring our own planetary system with 
his telescope, Bruno had already traversed infinite space on the wings 
of imagination, and filled the remote heavens with other suns and 
inhabited planets far beyond human ken or research. While 
Galileo was satisfied with determining the physical features and laws 
of our own system, Bruno had boldly speculated on the relation 
which the new astronomy must necessarily bear to humanity and its 
concerns, to Christianity and its doctrines, to political and social 
regulations. While again a modern scientist would have explored 
by laborious induction the particular law governing a given phenome- 
non, Bruno must needs obtain by his monads and his metaphysical 
abstractions a comprehensive theory, which included and explained 

1 Bar., ii. 51. Comp. p. 299. 



Giordano Bruno. 323 

to his satisfaction all natural phenomena. A # partial or particular 
truth, the isolated cause of a single phenomenon, a process or dis- 
covery that he could not formulate in terms of the Absolute or the 
Infinite, was to him no truth at all. These qualities and tendencies 
of Bruno have naturally met with scant sympathy among our induc- 
tive philosophers. Contrasted with Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, 
the men of science and observation, Bruno seems but a vain dreamer, 
a thinker who intermingled strange paradoxes and trivial fancies 
with serious and well grounded hypotheses ; and whose occasionally 
correct adumbrations of scientific truth are only the happy guesses 
of an erratic imagination which, in its impetuous and fantastic 
careering in every conceivable direction, must needs have come into 
occasional contact with ideas more or less true. To all of which 
may be replied, in the words of a well-known proverb, ' The king's 
chaff is as good as other people's corn.' Bruno, with the help of 
what he terms the lume interno, ragione naturale, altezza delV inte- 
letto, anticipated what neither Copernicus nor Galileo foresaw, and 
the bare idea of which is said to have ( horrified ' Kepler. 1 I mean 
the doctrine of more habitable worlds than one. Nor were Bruno's 
incursions into science so entirely idealistic, and divorced from all 
physical proofs and considerations, as some of his critics have assumed. 
Thus in the inference just maintained, analogy would suffice to sug- 
gest that planets similarly circumstanced to our own might also have 
living beings, in many respects like ourselves. As a rule, Bruno 
starts in every case from a physical science basis. His abstractions 
are, as we observed, metaphysical inferences from the infinite he re- 
cognized in Nature. His definition of God is derived from the laws 
of the visible world. His ideal worlds are but shadowy copies of this, 
though, like a disciple of PI o tin us, he would fain have reversed this 
relation and made this the evanescent shadow of other Real worlds 
invisible and eternal. It was as a disciple of modern science — not as j 
a metaphysician — that he first betrayed his Skepticism and came into/ 
hostile contact with the Church. In a word, with all his admitted 
idealistic tendencies, Brnno started in his investigations from the 
standpoint of physical science. The Pegasus on which he wings 

1 Delarabre, HUUrire de VAHronomie Modern, i. 886. Speaking of the in* 
finity of the Universe, he says, ' C'etait le sentiment du malheureux Jordanus 
Bruno ; Kepler le combat, la seule idee que l'6toile puisse 6tre un nouveau 
monde, le fait frissoner d'horreur.' Humboldt, in his Cotmo* (in. p. 18), 
makes the mistake of saying that Bruno regarded Kepler ( with enthusiastic 
admiration,' whereas, Berti has pointed out, Kepler's first work was published 
when Bruno had already spent four years in the prison of the Roman Inquisi- 
tion. Berti, Copernico, etc., p. 87, note 2. 



( 



324 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance, 

his flight towards the Infinite is not only an earth-born steed, dieted 
on terrestrial hay and oats, bnt has received some preliminary exercise 
on terra firma. 

I have already hinted at Bruno's forecasts of modern-science 
theories and discoveries. Besides his anticipations of inhabited 
worlds, and distant sons, he made some happy conjectures as to the 
movement of the fixed stars, the planetary nature of comets, the true 
figure of the earth, viz. that it was not quite spherical, the forma- 
tion of the sun, viz. a luminous photosphere superimposed on an 
opaque nucleus ; he seems also to have had some presentiment of the 
discovery that the constituents of heavenly bodies are similar to 
those of our own globe. 

Moreover, his attempt to unify all the processes of Nature, though 
put forward as a transcendental conception, has a distinct rapproche- 
ment to recent discoveries in physical science, whereby the conser- 
vation and relation of forces have become well founded scientific 
hypotheses. Moreover, should future science now resolve all the 
physical forces of the universe into different modifications of one 
single elementary force, Bruno might be adduced, with some show of 
reason, as having had a presentiment of such a truth. 
/ 4. As a natural result of his greater mental versatility, Bruno's 
J influence on modern thought has greatly exceeded that of his con- 
\ temporaries, Galileo and Kepler. Not only has he anticipated the 
conclusions of physicists, but he has engendered and stimulated no 
inconsiderable amount of metaphysical speculation, both in his own 
country and in Germany. This fact will perhaps not add to his 
credit among the disciples of Comte and other scientific dogmatists of 
our own day. But those who still retain the attributes of genuine 
philosophers, who believe that nothing essentially human lies outside 
the scope of philosophic sympathy, who recognize the Infinite in 
Nature and in Humanity, who are well acquainted- with the part 
metaphysics have played in time past, and who watch contemporary 
currents of speculation, will not think less of Bruno for indicating so 
many phases of speculation, and presenting so many points of contact, 
metaphysical as well as physical, with the common thought and senti- 
ment of mankind. With all the so-called progress of modern science, 
notwithstanding its perpetual attempts to circumscribe human feel- 
ing, Idealistic energy and aspiration within the limits of bodily senses, 
and its efforts to dwarf the Infinite to the measure of the Finite, the 
mind of man still bears unmistakable traces of its origin and of its 
destiny : Like that of Bruno it tends, when free and un thwarted, to 
the Infinite. 
Having thus sketched, at greater length than I intended, the 



Giordano Bruno. 325 

salient points of Bruno's teaching, I now resume the thread of his 
history. 

Eight years had elapsed since this apostle of Free-thought had been 
deprived of freedom — years, we may well suppose, of terrible tor- 
ture and misery; but sustained by the conviction that he had but 
employed the faculties God had given him to discover truth ; and as 
he himself pleaded, he had absolutely no power to thwart or contra- 
dict what seemed to be their clear and unbiassed conclusions. The 
end was now drawing nigh. The Holy Office was getting impatient 
with the obstinacy which it regarded as an aggravation of the origi- 
nal ' heretical pravity." Numberless had been the attempts to 
break down the stubborn spirit of the Nolan philosopher. Theolo- 
gians, we are told, had visited him daily for that purpose, but their 
efforts were powerless. He had also been repeatedly summoned 
before the Congregation of the Holy Office; but with no result. The 
records of some of these interviews are among the ' Roman Docu- 
ments ' Professor Berti has published. 1 Thus, on Thursday, the 14th 
of January, 1599, Bruno was ( visited, 1 i.e. brought before the Con- 
gregation, which consisted of sixteen cardinals and other ecclesiasti- 
cal dignitaries. On this particular occasion were read eight heretical 
propositions extracted from Bruno's works by the commissary gene- 
ral of the Holy Office, with the help of Bellarmine ; who seems to 
have been as forward in the proceedings against Bruno as he was 
afterwards in the persecution of Galileo. These propositions were 
submitted to Bruno for deliberation and recantation. On Thursday, 
the 4th of February, of the same year, Bruno was again before the 
Congregation, when the term of forty days was assigned as the 
period within which his deliberations should be confined. What 
happened at the end of the forty days when Bruno, no doubt, reite- 
rated his previous refusals, we do not know. Another summer and 
autumn passed slowly over the head of the immured philosopher; and 
the next news we have of him is on Tuesday, the 21st of December, 
when he is once more brought before the Congregation. On this 
occasion he said that ' he neither ought nor wished to recant ; indeed, 
he had nothing to recant, and was ignorant of the matters on which 
his recantation was demanded — an allegation which probably signi- 
fies his skeptical ignorance of those dogmas for which his concurrence 
was required. The same day, perhaps on the same occasion, Bruno 
was heard on the subject of his opinions and his prison privations — 
doubtless a plea against the cruelties to which he was subjected — 
and the Congregation appointed certain of their body to try and 
persuade him to abjure, by the promise of consequent advantage and 

1 Sae his Copernico e vicende del $i$Uma Copernicano in Italia, pp. 219-235. 



326 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

gain. 1 Thus passed the last month of 1599. Three weeks of the 
new year — the last of his life— had gone by, and Bruno stood again 
before his inquisitors. This time he presented a memorial, which 
was opened but not read. That its contents were of an unsatisfactory 
character is shown by the appended decree, which informs us that 
the General of the Domincans and the Procurator General had been 
appointed to address him (for the last time) on the subject of his 
recantation. Once more Bruno refused, boldly maintaining that he 
had never put forth heretical propositions; by which he no doubt 
meant consciously false ones. The resolution was thereupon made 
that extreme proceedings must be taken, and Bruno delivered over to 
the secular arm. 2 This was formally done on Tuesday, the 8th of 
February. Bruno was then declared an impenitent and obstinate 
heretic, and ordered to be delivered over to the civil powers. The 
next day was appointed for the public announcement of the sentence, 
and the formal degradation of Bruno as an apostate and lapsed priest. 
Professor Berti is apparently in error in supposing that this cere- 
mony took place in the church of Santa Maria della Minerva, subse- 
quently employed for this purpose. 3 Both Scioppius and the Avvisi^ 
or Roman Gazette of the day, agree in making the palace of the 
Supreme Cardinal Inquisitor (Madruzzi) 4 the scene of the event. 
There for the last time Bruno appeared before his judges, attired 
according to his usual custom in his Dominican dress. He was com- 
pelled to kneel down and listen to his sentence. The recital com- 
prised the chief events of his life, the erroneous opinions of his 
writings, both interpreted by the false light of ecclesiastical prejudice. 
The tender and solicitous efforts of the Holy Office to convert him 
were duly recapitulated ; and once more his obstinacy was denounced 
with the unctuous and hypocritical expressions of regret commonly 
employed by the Inquisition on such occasions. To the long harangue 
Bruno listened with firm and unmoved countenance. With equal 

1 ' Eique ( Jordano) oetendat propositiones abjurandas at agnoscat errores, se 
emendat, ac disponat ad abjurandum, ipsumque lucri faciant ut poesit expe- 
diri.' — Berti, Copernico, p. 280; Documenti, p. 70. 

* Berti, Copernico, p. 281. 

8 The business of the Boman Inquisition at this period was regulated by 
the Constitution of Sixtus V. (' Immensa JSterni Dei ' ), a.d. 1588. See details 
in Limborch Hittory of the Inquisition, i. p. 158, etc., etc. According to the 
same authority, ' These Supreme Inquisitors meet twice a week, viz. on Wed- 
nesdays, formerly in the house of the oldest Cardinal Supreme Inquisitor, but 
now in St. Mary's Church Supra Minervam, except the Pope commands other- 
wise, 1 pp. 154-5 ; comp. Berti, Copernico, p. 288. 

4 In the Congregation of December, 1599, a list of the members of which is 
extant, the first name is Cardinalis Mandrutius, and the second Cardinalis S. 
Severinse. Copernico, p. 228. 



Giordano Bruno. 327 

unconcern he underwent the ceremony of degradation— the stripping 
off his priestly vestments and attiring him in the heretic's coat of 
the San benito, while the solemn formula was pronounced * By the 
authority of God Almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and by 
our own, we take from thee the clerical habit, we depose and degrade 
thee, and deprive thee of every ecclesiastical order and benefice. ' l 
Once only did Bruno condescend to notice the grim farce of which 
he was the object. When the sentence was pronounced, he turned 
to his judges and with a firm voice and defiant expression, uttered 
the noble and memorable words, ( I suspect you are more afraid to 
pronounce that sentence than I am to receive it*' * The ceremony 
over, Bruno was consigned to the secular arm with the usual injunc- 
tion, that ( he should be punished as leniently as possible, and without 
shedding of blood ' — the iniquitous formula for death by fire. There- 
upon he was removed to the civil prison at Rome. The usual delay 
of eight days was granted in order to afford one last opportunity of 
recantation, but in vain. At length he was brought forth to die on 
Thursday, the 17th of February. 

The scene must have been remarkable. The year 1600 was a 
jubilee year. There were then in Rome no less than fifty cardinals. 3 
The streets were crowded with pilgrims. In every, direction might 
be seen troops of strangers dressed in the different costumes of their 
own country, wending their way from one church to another, im- 
ploring pardon for their sins. There was ringing^of bells, marching 
of processions, singing penitential psalms,, offering of vows and 
prayers at different shrines from morning till night. * While it might 
have seemed,' says Berti, 4 ( that all hearts ought to have been in- 
clined to mercy, and attracted lovingly to the gentle Redeemer of 
humanity, the poor philosopher of Nola, preceded and followed by 
crowds of people, accompanied by priests, carrying crucifixes and 
escorted by soldiers, was wending his way to* the Campo di Fiora to 
die for freedom and the rights of conscience. As the lonely thinker 
— the disciple and worshipper of the Infinite — passed through the 
streets, clothed in the San benito, but with head erect, and haughty, 
fearless glance, what thoughts must have passed through his mind ! 
The feeling of utter isolation could not but have been felt by him. 
He must have found — it was the conclusion of his intellectual 
career, the inevitable destiny, too often, of the single-hearted truth- 
seeker — that he was alone in his researches, in his passionate quest 

1 Berti, Vita, p. 298. 

* ( Majori forsan euro timore sententiam in me dicetis quam ego accipam.' — 
Bartholmess, i. p. 888. 

• Berti, Ftto, p. 295. 4 B.'rti, loc. cit. 



328 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

for truth, In the inferences and conclusions he had laboriously wrought 
out. Sympathy with the crowds round him who, no doubt, hooted the 
heretic in order to display their own orthodoxy, he was hardly likely 
to feel, except as a sentiment of pity for the ignorance and fanaticism 
of which he was only one victim among many. He may have com- 
miserated the ' Santa Asinita ' of his enemies just as Huss did the 
( Sancta simplicitas ' of the poor woman who was devoutly bringing a 
faggot to his pyre. He could not but regard them as the followers of 
a religion which, no matter what its original excellencies, had become 
utterly depraved and immoral, a base and merciless tyranny over 
the conscience and freedom of mankind ; or from the heights of his 
philosophy and his confidence in the final triumph of truth, he may 
have looked forward to a time when the ' Triumphant Beast ' would 
be expelled in accordance with his own prediction; or if not expelled, 
would be deprived of its power to suppress and destroy every effort 
and aspiration after truth ; or his imagination might possibly have 
been concentrated on those celestial worlds so often the objects of his 
contemplation and devout yearning, and on existences and pursuits 
more in harmony with his ideas of intellectual freedom and perfection. 
Among the last words contemporary tradition assign to him is the 
% dying utterance of Plotinus : * * I go to carry the Divine in us to the 
Divine in the universe ; ' 2 while the report was current among the 
newsmongers of the day that Bruno said that he died a martyr and 
willingly, even though his soul should not ascend to Paradise with 
the smoke of his fire, but that was of no consequence to him if he 
spoke the truth,' 8 words which, if authentic, are the fitting expres- 
sions when dying of one who living professed to love the truth for the 
truth's sake, ( per amor de la vera sapienza e studio de la vera con- 
templazione m* affatico, mi cruccio e mi tormento. 7 4 

At length he comes to the fatal spot where the stake had been 
erected. He submits himself to be bound, and in a few minutes the 
fire blazes round the martyr; but not a word or moan escapes the firm 
set lips, no expression of suffering or weakness passes across the wan 

1 C. Cantu, 01% Eretici <T Italia, iii. p. 62. * Xarrano die ripetisse le parole 
di Plotino.' 

• UcipaaSat to h iifwr Seior ivayew wpds to* iv ry xturrl dtiov. Prophyr. de vita 
Plotini. 

8 Berti, Copernico, p. 234. 

4 Op. Ital., ii. p. 4. The whole passage, which is noteworthy, is as follows : 
( £ se erro, non credo veramente errare, e parlando e scrivendo non disputo per 

amor de la vittoria per se stessa, per che ogni riputazione e vittoria stimo 

nemica a dio, vilissima, e senza pun to d' onore, dove non e la verita,— ma per 
amor de la vera sapienza e studio de la vera contemplazione m' affatico, mi 
cruccio, mi tormento.' 



Giordano Bruno. - 329 

and pale but still handsome features. One single gesture of impati- 
ence he gives way to when his tormentors thrust the crucifix before 
his dying gaze. Then, Schioppius tells, he averted his eyes with a 
threatening glance. And surely any expression of disdain and indig- 
nation might have been justified on the occasion. The sacred symbol 
of Christianity had long become the degraded emblem of ambition, 
lust and tyranny, a sign from which every man endued with a sense 
of religion and virtue would at such a time instinctively avert his 
eyes. 

( Thus/ says Schioppius, ' burnt, he perished miserably ; he is gone, 
I suppose,' he adds satirically, ' to recount to those other worlds 
imagined by himself the way in which Romans treated blasphemous 
and impious men.' x Whether this information has ever reached the 
star-worlds of Bruno is a matter of small importance. The intelli- 
gence, with much ill news of a similar kind, has long since reached the 
worlds of futurity equally contemplated by Bruno — the worlds of 
modern thought and progress, of enlightenment and civilization, of 
toleration and Christian charity. There it is again and again recorded 
' How Romans treated those ' whom they chose to denominate ' blas- 
phemers ' ; but as often as the tale is heard, it duly excites renewed 
sympathy for the sufferers and bitter indignation against their merci- 
less persecutors. Now it is known on which side lay the blasphemy 
— the high treason against God— on his, whose life was spent in 
earnest search for truth, whose every thought was a passionate 
enthusiasm for the Infinite, or on theirs who, in the interests of 
intellectual obscurantism and unchristian tyranny, slew him. Now it 
is determined, with some approach to a definitive and irreversible 
judgment, that an interpretation of Christianity which could by any 
perversion of reasoning be supposed to sanction such an iniquitous 
deed was itself the greatest of blasphemies. 

Bruno and Vanini share with most other martyrs of Free- 
thought the forecast of the end destined to crown their life-work. 
The essential incompatibility between their own freer instincts and 
the dogmatic restrictions by which in past times they were sur- 
rounded seems to assume the form of a grave, though not mournful, 
presentiment of a violent death. In Bruno's case the feeling was 
also connected with his mental characteristics. It was but one phase 
or outcome of the fervid impetuosity of his intellect, the far-seeing 
anticipation of his imagination. His very earnestness in truth-search, 
accompanied by the indomitable consciousness of honesty and good 

1 Bartholmess, i. p. 888. ' Sicque ustulatus misere periit, renunciatarus credo 
in reliquis illis quos finxit mundis quonam pacto homines blasphemi et impii 
a Romania tractari solent.' 



33° The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance, 

faith, made him supremely indifferent to consequences. What, after 
all, was more glorious than martyrdom for truth and for mental free- 
dom ? what more noble than self-sacrifice for the highest interests of 
humanity ? What existence could compare in fame, in triumph, in 
virtue, in unselfishness, in true greatness, to such a death ? Bruno 
gives utterance to his feelings and anticipations on this point in his 
Eroici furori, written sixteen years before his death. 'How much 
better/ says Cicada, Bruno's representative in that dialogue, ( is a 
worthy and heroic death than a disgraceful and vile success.' 

( On that proposition,' responds the poet Tansillo, ( I composed this 
sonnet,' whereupon Bruno borrows from Tansillo the verses which 
have been generally accepted as his own prediction of his fate, and 
which express so nobly his feelings at the prospect, — 

' Since I my wings to sweet desire do lend, 
The more the air uprises 'neath my feet, 
The swifter on the gale my pinions beat, 
And earth despising, toward heaven I tend. 
Nor for the son of Itod'lus' guilty end 
Feel I dismay, nay, rather buoyant heat 
His deadly fall I joyfully would meet, 
Peer to such death what life could mortal spend. 
Soaring I hear my trembling heart's refrain 
" Where bearest me, rash one ? The fell steep 
Too arduous is not climb'd without much pain." 
u Fear not," I answer, " for the fatal leap 
Serene I cleave the clouds and death disdain, 
If death so glorious heaven will that I reap." ' l 

Never did human ambition assume a nobler and purer form, never 
was presentiment more completely and triumphantly realized. Like 
another son of Daedalus, at least an investigator of the 'Natura 
D»dala rerum,' ( the Daedalian nature of things,' Bruno's eagle flight 
was cut off in mid air; and he fell as he wished, and prognosticated, 

the victim of dogma but the heir of immortal fame. 

• • • 

Soon after these sheets were written preparations were made to 
commemorate the services which Giordano Bruno rendered to the 
cause of European enlightenment. Tardily, but perhaps not more so 
than the circumstances of the case warranted, the Italy he loved 
with so fatal a passion has recognized formally and publicly her 
appreciation of her gifted but unfortunate child. In addition to 
successive fetes and memorials at Nola and Naples, a statue, the cost 
of which has been defrayed by public subscription, has been erected 

1 Eroic Fur., Op. Ital., ii. p. 886. 



Giordano Bruno. 331 

to his memory in Rome ; while the Italian Government at its own 
expense has consented to publish an edition of his collected works. 
Thus his firm and heroic features now adorn the city, perhaps over- 
look the very spot, where his constancy was put to such a cruel test, 
and where his ashes were scattered to the wind ; while his works, 
proscribed and burnt by the Inquisition, will, it is hoped, soon be in 
the hands of all cultivated Italians. 1 Henceforth the fame and ap- 
preciation he longed for, but only saw in the dim vista of futurity, 
are likely to be lavished on him with no niggard hand. In an Italy 
such as he would have delighted to call his native land, where at 
last thought enjoys the ' libertas philosophandi ' for which he craved 
and energised, and where the religious tyranny against which he 
protested no longer exists, Giordano enjoys the reparation rightly 
due to himself and the sublime cause of human liberty he so worthily 
represented. The recent revival of interest in himself and his 
writings suggest a parallel with the circumstances of his actual life. 
After many years' wandering in Europe he returned to his native 
land to find a long imprisonment and a martyr's death. Now, 
however, after the interval of some centuries, during which his 
name, except in works of philosophy, and in other parts of Europe, 
has been almost forgotten, and his writings well nigh destroyed, he, 
metaphorically, again returns to the Italy of his yearning, to enjoy 
through all futurity his rightful distinction of being, besides hero 
and martyr, one of the foremost philosophers and thinkers that 
favoured country has ever produced. 

Miss Leycester. Poor Bruno ! What a magnificent sub- 
ject his life and death would be for an old Greek myth or a 
tragedy of iEschylus — * Prometheus Bound and Unbound — in 
a single life-drama.' The myth might perhaps assume this 
form : The hero is, let us say, the son of the fire-god Vesuvius. 
Molten fire courses through his veins, fire gleams from his eyes 
and takes a thousand varied forms in the brilliant pyrotechnic 
creations of his imagination. His impassioned words are like 
thunder-bolts and lightning-shafts, and his course like that of 
a fiery comet. Prometheus-like, he wishes to diffuse the bless- 
ings of heat and light among men. He fetches the vital flame 
not only from the single sun of our own system, but from the 
numberless suns scattered through space. All this concentrated 

1 At this date (1892) eight volumes, or more accurately, three volumes, in 
eight parts, of this National Edition of Bruno's whole works have appeared. 



332 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

light he displays to men ; some of whom admire him for his 
beneficence and rejoice in his enlightenment, while others hate 
him for discovering and exposing their ignorance. His per- 
petual war is with darkness and voluntary blindness. The 
eagles and birds of the daylight are glad in his presence ; the 
owls and bats detest him. His light-giving mission he accom- 
plishes in the varied irregular way in which all light-diffusers 
seem compelled to discharge their functions to humanity. 
Sometimes the flame which Bruno displays is bright and clear, 
while at other times it is not free from ashes and smoke and 
scori®. At last, after a wild meteor course of a few years, he 
falls into the hands of his greatest enemy, the Prince of Dark- 
nese, who wishes to keep mankind in ignorance and slavery. 
He takes and binds for many years the Italian Prometheus, — 
not that he can altogether extinguish the light, but he can 
arrest the course of the light-giver. Ultimately our Prometheus 
disappears from earth in a flame of fire ; the element which 
gave him birth and consigned him to the bondage of life thus 
becoming the elemental cause of his death as man, though 
giving him new birth and eternal freedom as a fire-god. In 
requital of his services to men, and notwithstanding the op- 
position of his enemy, * The Prince of the Power of the Air,' 
the comet becomes a stationary and brilliant star, and the 
1 Prometheus Bound ' of our material world achieves the 
position of the ' Prometheus Unbound ' of Olympian deities 
and high human intelligences. 

Harrington. In outline your myfhos might be correct, but 
as matters of detail you exaggerate, I think, Bruno's light- 
bearing merits; and you do not discriminate between the 
Promethean fire he steals from heaven and the flames which 
the Prince of Darkness takes — I suppose from the opposite 
region — to consume him. But leaving the " myth " for history, 
I Bruno is an eminent instance of a mental progress, of which 
/ we have other instances on our list — I mean the evolution 
I from Skepticism to Mysticism. I do not mean the religious 
mysticism of Augustine and Cornelius Agrippa, but the half- 
pantheistic mysticism of Nicolas of Cusa and Raymund Lulli — 
a curious and indefinable conglomerate of philosophy, poetry, 



Giordano Bruno. 333 

devotion and superstition. It is wonderful how many noble 
intellects, who have started on the clear track of inductive 
reasoning and experimental philosophy, have come ultimately 
to anchor in this broad but misty harbour. I have always 
regarded the fact as an involuntary homage to the unknown 
by which we are surrounded. Is not this, by the way, the 
interpretation of that most mysterious of all modern dramas — 
the second part of Faust ? In the first part the hero, whom 
I take to impersonate Goethe himself, has exhausted the sup- 
posed truths and pleasures which belong to earth, and has 
reaped from them nothing but skepticism and satiety. In the 
second — like Bruno in his excursions through space, or his 
mystical treatises on Lulli's philosophy (you remember how 
he describes his idealism as an emancipation from prison) — 
Faust awakens to a newer life. He describes the event in 
lines of which we might find a thousand-fold echo in Bruno's 
works — 

Des Lebens Pulse scblagen f risch lebendig 
Aetberische D&mm'rung milde zu begrtlssen : 
Du Erde warst aucb diese Nacb,t bestandig 
TJnd athmest neu erquickt zu meinen Fttssen, 
Beginnest scbon mit Lust micb zu umgeben 
Du regst und rtthrst ein kraftiges Bescbliessen 
Zuin htfchsten Daseyn immerfortzu streben. 

In other words, he determines to enjoy a higher existence in 
a shadowy world of phantasies and abstractions; in which, 
indeed, he becomes so immersed as to lose most of his own 
individuality, though he does not quite lose the skeptical truth- 
searching spirit of his former life. Of course Goethe had a 
more scientific knowledge than Bruno of the real powers of 
Nature ; but that is the chief difference between them. 

Trevor. Your idea may have something to say for it. But 
any distinct definition of Goethe's object in the second part of 
Faust seems to me hazardous. In fact, I have never been able 
to perceive that he had any set purpose at all in the construc- 
tion of the poem. It is a congeries of dramas, phantasies, 
rhapsodies and sublimities relating to nature, art, philosophy, 
theology ; in short, to most things in heaven above, the earth 
beneath, and the regions under the earth. If we could cer- 



334 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

tainly regard it from your point of view as Goethe's intellectual 
goal, then we might take it, together with Bruno's Lullism and 
the mysticism of so many other thinkers, as an instance of the 
tendency to expansiveness which marks the latter stages of the 
mental progress of some great thinkers — a kind of intellectual 
eclecticism combined with emotional diffusiveness — which is 
the opposite pole to the narrow dogmatism in which ordinary 
minds at last find anchorage. 

Arundel. An approximation to Bruno's poetic philosophy 
nearer home we might find in Shelley, whose Prometheus 
Unbound may be said to represent the second or expansive 
part of his mental career, as the second part of Faust does in 
Goethe's case. Such a poem as Alastor, for instance, is redolent 
of the vague, tender mysticism in which Bruno loved to ex- 
patiate. Indeed, there seems some similarity in the objects 
of their separate works. The Spaccio delle Bestia Trionfante 
may well pair off with the Prometheus Unbound, while Gli 
eroici furori might have borne the title of * Hymn to Intel- 
lectual Beauty.' 1 

Miss Leycester. You might have carried your parallelism 
further. The severe strictures on priests and the intolerance 
and dogmatism of churches contained in the Revolt of Islam 
resemble pretty closely what we find on the same topics in 
Bruno's works. If his doctrine of metempsychosis were true, 
we might easily imagine that the soul of Bruno had passed 
into Shelley. 

Harrington. Those whom Bruno's spirit and method seem 
especially to have animated are the philosophers of Italy since 
his time. There we have an instance of a national philosophy 
— the most perfect in Europe — which has, without a single 
eminent ex(jeption, started from similar positions, and arrived 
at like conclusions. Its two chief characteristics are Free- 
thought and Idealism, the latter being sometimes religious, 
sometimes not. It would hardly be a great exaggeration to 
say that the ghost of Bruno, slightly * clothed upon ' by the 

1 As the similarity of Shelley to Bruno has been made the subject of more 
than one magazine and review article during late years, it may he right to 
say that these words were written in 1879. 




Giordano Bruno. 335 

German speculation of the last century, now occupies all the 
tore most chairs in Italian universities ; for they seem filled by 
Hegelians. 

Miss Leycester. We must beware of laying too much 
stress on a singular manifestation of principles common to all 
idealists from Parmenides to the present day. At the sata* 
time Bruno's influence on Germany seems more remarkable 
than the community of sentiment which he naturally shares 
with his thoughtful, imaginative countrymen. For, next t 
Hume — and even that exception may be questioned — he is the 
foreign thinker who has most stimulated and influenced Ger- 
man speculation since the time of Kant, especially if we take 
into consideration the debt Spinoza also owes to him. 

Trevor. It is easy, I think, to exaggerate the similarity 
between Bruno and succeeding idealists, and it is a mistake .. 
into which more than one of his biographers and critics have 
fallen. What is certainly true of his writings is their mar- 
vellous suggestiveness. This, I think, would be admitted by 
any thinking man in our own day. But he is better adapted \ \ 
for indicating new sources and directions of knowledge than/ ) 
for fully availing himself of the former, or persistently follow- 
ing up any one of the latter. 

Harrington. His intellectual tendency might be summed \ 
up in a small compass as a determination to Infinitize, if I / 
might coin the word. Schelling, in his Bruno Dialogue, says, 
' Die Neigung das Unendliche in dem Endlichen und hinwie- 
derum dieses in jenem zu setzen in alien philosophischen 
Reden und Untersuchungen herrschend ist.' l To find the 
Infinite in the finite of religion, physical science, humanity, 
was the main purport of his teaching. Though I am aware 
this tendency may be misapplied, and in some aspects be made 
to appear ludicrous, it has always seemed to me the mark of 
a comprehensive intellect. I think, on the whole, all superior 
minds gravitate to the Infinite. We see this not only in the 
case of theologians and their definitions of the universal exist- 
ence and energy of the Supreme Being, but in their antagonists, 
the positivists and physical scientists. The materialist, who 

1 Schelling, Sdmmlliche Werke, iv. p. 242. 



336 The Skeptics of tlie Italian Renaissance. 

/ denies a God, will yet plead for the eternity and omnipresence 
\ of matter. The scientist, who denies the Divine government 
of the world, will still insist on the eternity and universality 
of the laws of causation or gravitation. The legislator with 
his codes, the moralist with his precepts, will endeavour to 
base their respective regulations on some permanent and im- 
perishable basis; in short, they infinitize equally with the 
theologian, and frequently, I must own, with considerably less 
reason or justification. 

Trevor. I presume you do not mean that the induction of 
instances on which a scientist founds some hypothesis, e.g. the 
law of evolution, is of the same kind as the inferences of the 
theologian, from the order, regularity and design he discerns 
in nature. 

Harrington. I was speaking at the moment of the un- 
reasonable contempt which scientists and positivists show for 
the conceptions of the theologian when they transcend what 
we actually see, and I suggested that their own conceptions 
frequently pass the limits of the seen and the knowable. 

Arundel. But I really do not see why you might not have 
gone a step further, and placed the conclusions of the reason- 
ing theologian on precisely the same basis as those of the 
scientist. The latter, for instance, deduces from a certain 
chain of facts and observations the doctrine of evolution as 
the eternal process which has brought about the existing 
variety of living beings on the earth. I also, e.g. infer from 
a consideration of different processes I perceive in operation 
about me — laws of nature, of history, and morality — a Divine 
mind. Why is the cogency of my inference to be considered 
inferior to that of his ? The question is of the agency which 
produces a number of effects. I pronounce for mind in the 
form of eternal volition. The scientist declares for the mere 
process as the ultimate link in his chain of the knowable — the 
blind striving or effort which he affirms is all he is cognisant 
of, on which ground, I suppose of the superior merits of blind- 
ness to foresight, he calls my deduction superstitious, while 
he dignifies his own by the appellation of science. 
Trevor. Well, we are neither atheists nor positivists, so 



Giordano Bruno. 337 

the question does not immediately concern us. But, in fairness 
to the science point of view, you must acknowledge that there 
is a difference between merely affirming a process of which a 
man has direct evidence before his eyes and asserting an unseen 
and yet personal cause which, ex vi terminorum, is unprovable. 

Harrington. I confess I agree with Arundel. If the 
scientist infers from his induction an external or universal 
process, or, as I said, if he infinitizes, he stands really on the 
same ground as the theologian. Remember, I do not blame 
the tendency to infinitize. Besides being useful, it is clearly 
quite irresistible. All I say is, I cannot perceive the adequacy 
of the reasoning on which the scientist of our day commonly 
attacks theology. Of course I acknowledge still less the 
validity of the reasons for which theology, in time past, has 
attacked and sought to suppress science. 

Miss Leycester. But granting this tendency to infinitize, 
as you call it, I want to ask whether we are to regard it as 
intuitional and inborn, or as a result of experience or associa- 
tion. In the first case we might take it as the subjective 
feeling or sense by which we apprehend religion ; in the second 
case, I suppose we could not do so. 

Arundel. Why not ? A capacity for acquiring might be 
just as strong a proof that we were destined for the acquisition, 
as an instinctive and inborn feeling would be. I suppose that 
the intuition, as an innate faculty, would hardly be denied 
among races accustomed to contemplate and reason on the 
Infinite. 

Mrs. Harrington. Bruno's infinitizing process was, I think, 
happily employed when he brought it to bear on ecclesiastical 
dogmas. I often long to ask about some petty detail of Chris- 
tian worship, or some unimportant matter of doctrine — How 
would it bear the test of the Infinite in time and space ? What 
would the inhabitants of Sirius, supposing there are any, and 
are reasoning beings like ourselves, think of our squabbles 
about vestments and rubrics, or the charity of the Athanasian 
Creed? Whereas the precepts on which Christ lays stress 
have distinctly an infinite and eternal character. Granting 
the existence of reasoning beings, and the duties He commands 

vol. i. z 



338 The Skeptics of the Italian Renaissance. 

are necessary and universal— as true in a remote planet as 
they are here, and at certain aeons before the promulgation of 
Christianity as they will be for ages to come. 

Harrington. Undoubtedly, they partake of the old formula 
for universal truth, which by some strange irony, has been 
adapted to ecclesiastical dogma : ' Quod semper, quod ubique, 
quod ab omnibus.' 

Trevor. "What you say is true ; only don't forget the hint 
in my paper as to the unsatisfactory nature of that extremely 
subtle, metaphysical and recondite Christianity evolved by 
German transcendentalism, and which is often as great a con- 
trast to the simplicity of the Gospel as the dogmas of the most 
ecclesiastical of Christian churches. The Infinite must no 
doubt enter into the constitution of every Christian faith; 
and for that reason the distance between Pantheism and any 
other form of Theism does not appear to me so great as it does 
to some persons ; certainly does not sanction the persecution of 
the supposed Pantheist, as in the cases of Bruno, Vanini and 
Spinoza. 

Harrington. Every theology which is founded on or allied 
with natural theology — and this I take to be true of all the 
higher religious thought of our time — must contain a greater 
or less proportion of Pantheistic elements. The ordinary 
language of Christians is saturated with Pan ideas, though 
disguised in other tongues. E.g. -AZ-mighty and other divine 
attributes into which all enters. So again we have omniscience, 
omni-presence, etc. Both the Old and the New Testament 
contain similar Pantheistic implications, though they are com- 
monly disregarded. The 139th Psalm could only have been 
written by one whose inclinations were Pantheistic. The 
well-known words, * In Him we live, and move and have our 
being,' also tend to Pantheism. Bruno has its sentiment in 
numberless passages of his works. 

Miss Lrtcestrr. That is what angers me in calling to mind 
the persecutions of such men as Bruno and Spinoza, whose 
conceptions of Deity, if duly investigated, are only the meta- 
physical form of the Infinite of Nature ; so that the inevitable 
sublimity and extent of their ideas are proclaimed unsound by 



Giordano Bruno. 339 

beings whose notions of God are relatively so limited, insig- 
nificant and unworthy. What a grim mockery of justice, that 
a man who thinks of the Supreme Being only as a somewhat 
enlarged reflection of himself — whose very anthropo- morphism 
is an eavTca morphism, i.e. not a generalization from all that is 
noblest in collective humanity — should be allowed to brand and 
burn a